Apr 15, 2022 - Health

Stuck in the great COVID in-between

Illustration of a man inside of a red cross-shaped box

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Life in a COVID world is getting awkward again as Americans rush headlong back to their old ways of life even as case counts rise and new variants threaten to dash their hopes.

Why it matters: We can't say we're in a post-pandemic period yet. But large segments of the public are embracing pre-COVID norms, a fact that's maddening for those who are — or must — continue taking precautions.

"It's definitely weird," said Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine.

  • "We're going back to work, which is a little odd. We're not sure whether to do handshakes or fistbumps," he said. "Every encounter is this little negotiation with the people 'Do you want to? Do I want to?' It's all very odd."

Driving the news: Case rates and hospitalizations have plummeted after the Omicron surge.

  • The latest Axios-Ipsos poll found less than one in 10 Americans now describe COVID-19 as a crisis. Most called it a manageable problem and one in six say it's no problem at all.

But, but, but: Kids under 5 still haven't had a chance to get their first COVID vaccinations, while the immunocompromised have low, if any, levels of protection against the virus from them.

What they're saying: "It depends on what you mean by a crisis," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN in response to a question about the Axios-Ipsos poll.

  • "It certainly is not the 'crisis' that we had when we were getting 900,000 cases a day and the hospitals were being stressed," he said. "But we're not at the level that I would feel comfortable to say 'forget about it.' We can get back to normality, which a lot of people are."

Between the lines: While many experts agree it's OK to dial back the precautions among those who are generally at low risk, there are good reasons they shouldn't throw caution to the wind just yet. Chief among them: long COVID.

  • While there's growing data about the chronic and debilitating long-term effects from COVID infections, there's just not enough data yet to know if those who are vaccinated are protected against long COVID under Omicron.
  • "The certainly non-zero probability that I will feel crummy two months from now — and I think even more importantly — the non-zero probability that I'll be at increased risk of a heart attack or diabetes or maybe cognitive decline over the years or blood clots," is a concern, Wachter said.

The bottom line: Even if it's starting to feel like it again, the pandemic isn't over yet. We still need to proceed with some caution.

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