The President Isn't out of the Woods Yet, and Neither Are We

President Donald Trump talks to reporters as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (at right) and other senators listen, in Washington, D.C., May 19, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

The president’s hospitalization and the outbreak at the White House are vivid reminders that no, the pandemic is not over, and it is unlikely close to being over.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallies 49,327 new cases and 703 deaths. Worldometers puts Friday’s tally at 50,257 on Friday and 757 deaths. Health experts worry that as the weather gets cooler and people spend more time indoors, the virus will spread more quickly. The good news is that for the past month, the daily number of new cases and daily number of new deaths or so has been pretty steady, once you account for the drops on weekends. The bad news is that those measures aren’t really declining, either.

No matter how much some guy on Facebook insists, the United States is not “at herd immunity” or “almost at herd immunity.” If we were at herd immunity, we wouldn’t have 50,000 new cases day after day; the virus would be running out of new people to infect, because so many people had already developed the antibodies to fight it off. This doesn’t mean that every new case will turn into a life-and-death situation; a new study of 230,398 healthcare workers across 24 countries found that 40 percent were asymptomatic, suggesting that probably four in ten people can get it and not even know that they have it.

If any place in the country would be close to herd immunity, it would be New York City, site of the first and worst outbreak. Unfortunately, certain neighborhoods in the city are seeing an uptick in cases again.

There are some bright spots. We still have considerable space in the nation’s hospitals and intensive-care units. For every age group, the odds of surviving an infection are good and are improving as treatments are developed and become more refined. As we’re seeing from the president’s care, the menu of options for treatment is much better than in the spring. An outbreak among college students is much less worrisome than an outbreak at a retirement home. As an Australian epidemiologist calculated, “In crunching the numbers, Meyerowitz-Katz has found that children have a very low risk of death — about five out of every 100,000 children infected have died. But this rises to 60 of 100,000 by age 40; 680 of 100,000 by age 60; and 8,000 of 100,000 by age 80.” We’re still in a pandemic, social distancing and other protective measures are still wise, and the elderly and immunocompromised are still at higher levels of risk.

I see quite a few people convinced that if Joe Biden wins the election, the media will declare that the pandemic is over, and that all of the coverage and discussion of the pandemic since March has been a deliberate attempt to over-hypes the danger and undermine the odds of President Trump’s election. I suppose we will see. If the media really does declare on November 4 — or whenever the election is resolved, whether it is days or weeks later — that the pandemic is no longer a danger, and that everyone can return to life as normal, then all of those skeptics will be entitled to crow from the rooftops about vindication. If not, I hope they will find as public a venue as possible to recognize they were wrong and that this was not all a matter of partisan media hype.

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