More than two years into the pandemic, it is evident that COVID-19 is going to be a lingering part of our lives.
Throughout the United States, we have reached an uneasy acceptance of the virus — an acceptance that continues to be costly. In April, about 12,000 American deaths were attributed to coronavirus.
Hospitalizations and deaths remain quantifiable. When a patient becomes severely ill from the virus and requires hospitalization, or when that virus proves fatal, the patient is added to a stunning list of numbers — nearly 1 million American deaths from the disease. That is one of every 330 people, a statistic that seemed unfathomable 26 months ago, when COVID-19 first landed on our shores.
But while the most extreme cases continue to be tallied, we are losing sight of the typical COVID cases — the ones that render a patient ill for a couple days, leaving them to perhaps stay home in bed and isolate to avoid infecting household members.
Safe and effective vaccines have reduced the symptoms for many who become infected, allowing them to outlast the virus. And home testing kits have allowed many to confirm their infection without intervention from medical professionals. These have been beneficial developments in the battle against a disease that previously was unknown.
But those developments also have led to complacency that makes it difficult to track the disease. According to a report from The Associated Press, COVID testing has declined at least 70 percent globally from the first quarter of this year to the second.
“We’re not testing anywhere near where we might need to,” Dr. Krishna Udayakumar of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University said. “We need the ability to ramp up testing as we’re seeing the emergence of new waves or surges to track what’s happening.”
A COVID modeling group at the University of Washington estimates that 13 percent of infections in the United States are reported to health authorities. With recent numbers averaging about 70,000 confirmed cases per day, that would mean there are more than 500,000 actual cases each day.
Meanwhile, approximately two-thirds of Americans have been fully vaccinated, while 1 in 6 say they “definitely will not get the vaccine,” according to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The opposition has remained virtually unchanged over the past year, since the early months of widely available vaccines.
“One thing that has been really consistent in all of our surveys is the size of the group that says they’re definitely not getting vaccinated,” Kaiser’s Liz Hamel told NPR. “The ones that have been most likely to say they’re definitely not going to get the vaccine have been Republicans and people living in rural areas, as well as white evangelical Christians.”
The truth is that most Americans became entrenched early on about their feelings regarding vaccines. Now, we are widely demonstrating COVID fatigue by mostly eschewing masks and by forgoing tests provided by medical facilities.
In other words, COVID has become similar to influenza in the American psyche. That is not particularly healthy; influenza has contributed to approximately 30,000 deaths annually in recent years — a small fraction of the coronavirus toll.
The result likely will be a lingering pandemic, one with ebbs and flows of infections as new variants of the virus emerge. Americans have given up on defeating COVID and instead have decided to live with it.