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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans' views of life with COVID, and the ultimate goal we're trying to achieve, appear to be evolving quickly at this point in the pandemic.

The big picture: In the beginning, efforts were aimed at reducing the overall spread of COVID. Over time, the focus has shifted to preventing the worst outcomes — hospitalizations and deaths.

Driving the news: Top Biden officials acknowledged in a Senate hearing this week that most Americans will get Omicron at some point.

  • "What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens," acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock said, according to U.S. News & World Report.

State of play: Under the threat of Omicron and reports of overwhelmed hospitals, many Americans responded by hunkering down in recent weeks.

  • But there is a great divide in behaviors. Many Americans decided they were done with COVID a long time ago.
  • Preventing serious disease and death have been the most important goals since the very beginning, said Megan Ranney, academic dean at the Brown University School of Public Health, but the vaccines' early success against infection may have inflated expectations.

"We are starting to see a shift among the folks who take COVID seriously and I think it's an uncomfortable shift for many," she told Axios.

  • A combination of vaccines, testing and higher-quality masks are helping low-risk Americans safely engage with the world around them.
  • Parents have grappled with the safety of daycare or in-person school, weighed against the pitfalls of online learning.
  • The approval of antivirals for the treatment of COVID in high-risk individuals is also a factor as individuals consider risk under the latest variant.

"Where I hope we're going is a recognition that these surges will happen, we're going to do what we can to protect ourselves and our families ... with an acceptance that in some shape or form, COVID is going to be part of our lives and we have to have strategies to deal with it," Ranney said.

Yes, but: There are still plenty of people who are immunocompromised who haven't seen the equation change.

  • Experts also warn against the risk of Americans becoming complacent at this point, with so many sickened from Omicron and hospitals so packed with patients.
  • "There's a lot more complication in the risk calculation," said Tara Kirk Sell, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
  • "But when you look at the hospitalizations, the societal risk is still pretty high," she said. "And you think: Maybe I'm protected against COVID, but what if I get in a car accident? Will I still be able to get a spot in a hospital?"

The bottom line: While the risks are still very real, we're also learning as a country how to live with this virus.

  • "We are coming to see as a country and as a world, there is no end in sight," Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, told Axios.
  • "It would not be reasonable to shut down schools or shutter our economy every few months," Wen said.

Go deeper

Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

Momentum builds to ban lawmakers from trading stocks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some progressive Democrats and MAGA Republicans are uniting on a proposal to ban sitting lawmakers from trading individual stocks, although it's unlikely that leadership will bring the bill up for a vote.

Why it matters: Members of Congress have great power to move stock prices, and great financial incentives to do so.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: The Weather Prediction Center said in a storm summary Monday that winter storm warnings are still in effect for portions of the Central Appalachians, Ohio Valley, interior Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, while portions of the Central Appalachians and coastal New England are under high wind warnings.