(CNN) — 2021, the second year of the covid-19 pandemic, was supposed to it wasn’t going to end like this, but there is hope on the horizon.
The year dawned with the hope that new and effective vaccines against covid-19 – free and available to all – would rid the country of the worst public health emergency in 100 years, in which 350,000 Americans had already died. The promise of a new president, Joe Biden, to end the virus resonated in the nation’s ears after his predecessor lied about the severity of COVID-19, botched the government’s response and prioritized his political goals over health.
But the year ends in a dark place. Hospitals are flooded with COVID-19 patients, the transportation network is collapsed, and a new variant of the coronavirus – omicron – is infecting even the most careful citizens.
This year has been more deadly than the previous one. In the United States alone, more than 820,000 people have already perished from covid-19. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts 44,000 deaths in the next four weeks. The previously unthinkable figure of a million dead Americans seems depressingly credible, and another White House has often seemed outdone and waiting in vain for the best scenarios to unfold as the virus unleashes new attacks.
“I think right now we are in the public health crisis of our lives,” Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN on Thursday.
He spoke as hospitalizations rise rapidly across the country – including New York, Michigan, Colorado and Maryland – and the delta variant of the coronavirus clings and causes hot spots elsewhere.
Another expert, Michael Osterholm – whose analysis has been corroborated by the events of the pandemic – warned that potentially between 10% and 20% of the US workforce could be infected at any given time, a figure that It could unleash chaos in the healthcare, food, retail and travel sectors, not to mention when schools are back in business after the holidays next week.
“It will be a matter of weeks before we have a whole viral storm across the country,” Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Policy and Research at the University of Minnesota, told CNN’s Laura Coates on Wednesday.
A new phase of the crisis
The terrifying reality of the month ahead suggests little reason for a national atmosphere of celebration or new beginnings in this new Year Eve.
Yet this latest phase of the pandemic, a global nightmare entering its third year, has been the most disorienting yet. But paradoxically, the rise in ubiquitous omicron infection may contain seeds of hope.
Although it is infecting many more people than previous strains of the virus and thus sending proportionally more people to the hospital – a crisis that could shake the medical system – omicron appears to cause less severe and prolonged illness, according to one set. growing scientific evidence. For many Americans who are fully vaccinated and received boostersIt is not as threatening as previous waves of the virus, and may even manifest as a cold or cause no symptoms.
However, that does not mean that the 90 million residents who do not meet the requirements to be vaccinated or who have chosen to refuse vaccines – many of them for political reasons – are not still at serious risk, since their chances of avoiding infection they are now much worse with the new variant. The vast majority of the dead are those who decided not to protect themselves.
From the darkness of the covid-19 pandemic to hope
But now there is also the promise not only of vaccines and boosters to prevent COVID-19, but of highly effective new therapies, including Pfizer’s first antiviral pill that is expected to be available in sufficient quantities within a few months to save lives. Biden’s promise to make 500 million rapid covid-19 tests available to any American who wants it could start to fix an ongoing failure by the two administrations. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 could be given the green light to receive their booster shots soon, taking another burden off parents of older children.
There is also reason to believe that the increased transmissibility of omicron could mean that the wave could wane as quickly as it was built.
“It certainly peaked very quickly in South Africa. It went up almost vertically and turned around very quickly,” the government’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Thursday on CNBC.
“I imagine, given the size of our country, and the diversity between vaccinated and unvaccinated, that it will probably be a couple of weeks, probably until the end of January (to peak), I would think,” he said.
Increasing the infectious properties of the variant is also changing the way the nation is fighting the pandemic, and could pave the way for a more sustainable response in which people learn to live with the virus. For example, CDC reduced isolation time from 10 to 5 days this week for people with a positive COVID-19 test who have no symptoms or whose symptoms are waning, as long as they wear a mask for another 5 days.
The move was a recognition that society – and especially health care systems – could not function during the current wave with the older norms. The decision was also in line with behavioral science, after officials weighed how much more people were willing to tolerate. A sign that – whatever their leaders say – Americans are desperate and increasingly ready to get their own lives back.
There are undeniably positive signs in a country that is beginning to adapt to a new kind of life, in which covid-19, after the winter wave, can turn into sinister background music rather than a life-changing threat, as less in the warmer months.
“Facts are important because facts can spread fear,” New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams told reporters Thursday.
“The facts can also let people know that we are not in a situation where we have morgues outside of hospitals, where we are seeing people die at alarming rates. We are not where we were at the beginning,” Adams said.
The fact that so many Americans who become infected suffer from only a mild case of the disease, a few snot or a sore throat, for example, is starting to spark a debate about how far society should move on. The situation is clearly very different from that at the beginning of the crisis, when There were no vaccinations available and social distancing, wearing masks and zippers were the only defense.
It also raises hope that the economy is in better shape this holiday season than before, although the omicron wave will keep people out of restaurants and bars this holiday weekend and could take some of the heat off the rebound. Goldman Sachs predicted that the variant could reduce US economic growth to 3.8% next year, from the expected 4.2%.
Americans also have money to spend. According to Mastercard, retail sales rose 8.5% year-on-year this holiday season, although the biggest cloud hanging over the economy – the rise in inflation caused by the shock wave of the pandemic – is a real drag for many. workers and could significantly hurt Democrats’ prospects in the November midterm elections.
There is no way to cure tortured American politics
Biden’s own political woes worsened as the year progressed, and the pandemic exacerbated his struggle to get the most out of the slim Democratic majorities in Congress.
It’s not the only one. The challenges of a pandemic, which present themselves once in a century, have left many world and local leaders – at least those of democracies – handicapped. The sheer volume of unpopular and impossible decisions they have to make is remarkable and rapidly erodes the political capital they hoped to spend on other things.
But Biden has also had his own mistakes, such as a partial declaration of victory over the virus on July 4, even at a time when it was clear that the delta variant that would cause a wave in the summer was lurking in the United States. After promising for months to improve US testing capabilities, he now admits that his administration was slow to kick-start production of rapid antigen tests before the arrival of a variant much more infectious than viral strains. previous.
However, Biden has also been hampered by Republicans’ relentless effort to weaponize the pandemic for political gain. Former President Donald Trump may have belatedly made up his mind to defend vaccines developed during his tenure, but a relentless propaganda barrage by conservative media and right-wing populist politicians has contributed to low adoption rates and many deaths.
According to a CNN analysis in December, the risk of dying from COVID-19 is more than 50% higher in states that voted for Trump than for Biden since vaccines are available. Some Republican governors, clearly with a view to possible presidential nominations, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Greg Abbott of Texas, became figures for opposing the use of masks and vaccination mandates in schools and the workplace.
They can argue that the signs that the rest of the country is beginning to live with COVID-19 made them pioneers. But his disregard for public health surely came at a horrible price in terms of illness and death. The Republican Party’s propensity to create fantasy worlds, as with its embrace of the lies of Trump’s electoral fraud, is also evident in its denial of the pandemic and its tolerance for attacks on public health officials like Fauci.
“The real America is done with # COVID19. The only ones who don’t get it are Fauci and Biden,” Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted earlier this month, days before hospitals began to fill with new.
The national divisions widened by the covid-19 have shown that nothing, not even a virus that infects without making political differences, can repair the distancing of a polarized nation.
More generally, it can be hard to expect life to be more normal – if anyone can remember what that feels like – on New Years Eve. Fighting a virus that is always one step ahead is relentless and exhausting. The lack of vaccines in the developing world means that another, more dangerous variant is quite likely to develop and set back this year’s progress.
However, while Covid-19 will almost certainly not be eradicated within a year, medical advances and societal changes mean there is hope that there are less draconian ways to treat it. That is something to look forward to in 2022.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism