I have generally supported statements by my old friend, Tony Fauci, but not after he set off a media storm on April 25th when he said the “We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase.” Dr. Fauci did moderate his statement the next day, but the damage was done. We can all relax and get back to the pre-pandemic normal was the instant conclusion. I wish this were true, but it is not.
A pandemic means that the COVID virus infection has spread to the entire world and its incidence is increasing. Data for the month of April show the greatest increases in infection in South Korea (almost 4 million new cases), followed by Germany, France, Italy, Australia, Japan, and the US (more than 1 million new cases in the past month). So, by any definition, the pandemic is not over. The map below shows the current hotspots of infection.
COVID infections in California are increasing (although the data quality is poor because of unreported home tests), and there has been a recent uptick in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths. Deaths are increasingly concentrated in the elderly and immunocompromised, and up to 40% were in those who were vaccinated (two doses of Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines, not necessarily after one or two booster shots, by the CDC definition). This adds to the growing evidence that immunity is declining with time after vaccination, particularly among the elderly.
The CDC recently reported that over 60% of US citizens show evidence of prior infection with COVID-19, a big increase following the wave of Omicron variant infections this past winter. Some commentators have suggested that we are approaching a state of herd immunity where most of us are resistant to virus infection. Unfortunately, this is not true and immunity after natural infection seems to wane even faster than after vaccination. New variants (BA.4) with improved transmission have been detected in South Africa, so it is not clear how vaccination or prior infection will protect against serious illness caused by this or other virus variants.
It remains important for our older residents to get a second booster and to wear masks when in indoor settings. Not the good news that the end is in sight, but the only news we can responsibly share.