The Pandemic Isn’t Over Yet, But Congress Is Willing to Gamble That It Is

The number of COVID cases is on the rise throughout the country Europe AsiaSome experts in the United States wonder if another wave might be on the horizon. Following the Omicron spike of late 2021/early this year, caseloads have been low across all 50 states. This led to a broad relaxation in mask mandates and a decline in remote work options. Nearly all Republicans in Congress, along with many conservative Democrats, support a repealthe federal mask mandate that continues to be applied to planes and public transportation.

A subvariant of Omicron known as BA is responsible for the spike in cases abroad. Early evidence suggests it may even be more transmissible that the original variant, which caused record numbers around the world. There’s also cause for cautious optimism, however, as it appears that immunity caused by the first variant extends to the new subvariant. Between vaccinations and boosters, and so-called “natural immunity” from a previous infection, the United States may have a wall of protection to prevent caseloads — and, more importantly, hospitalizations and deaths — from spiking in the coming months.

Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s point person on COVID, said on March 20 that he expected a rise in cases, even if it doesn’t amount to another full-blown wave. Fauci estimatedThe new subvariant accounts approximately 25-30 percent of all new cases.

It is unlikely that the worst will happen in the United States. This is because federal and state officials have taken measures for the next wave. Despite this, Congress failed to include additional funding for pandemics in its annual massive. spending bill. This could lead to disaster, especially for those who are poor or without insurance. Republicans, conservative Democrats and even some Democrats will be affected. public health officials insist on putting the pandemic behind us and getting back to “normal,” it’s not at all clear that the country — or the world — is through with COVID.

Even at the current levels, the push from some to adopt a new normal of living with COVID often ignores the risks to immunocompromised people and those who aren’t eligible for the vaccine. Millions of people who may not fit the CDC’s definition of immunocompromised are livingPeople with chronic illnesses, disabilities, or other health issues that increase their risk of becoming sick. If certain aspects of the pandemic such as regular remote working and telehealth are less common, these will be These are the communities most likely be left behind — even under what some mainstream pundits are considering a best-case scenario.

Maintaining the current levels could prove difficult. President Joe Biden’s plans at the federal level have largely been hampered by Congress, which has reverted from a brief period where it actually addressed public needs back to an anti-public health posture. The first rounds of pandemic relief were passed using so-called deficit spending. Republicans began insisting that Democrats find a way to “pay for” the programs — Washington, D.C.-speak for increasing taxes or finding another source of revenue. Biden initially requested $22 billion in pandemic funding from Congress. This was cut to $15 billion by lawmakers. Republicans and some conservative Democrats insisted on spending offsets. The compromise reached was that new revenue would come directly from states that had already received pandemic funds. rebellionOnly a few House Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the COVID money out of the bill, prompting fear among the White HouseCongress would fail to pass the necessary funding.

Many federal projects are at high risk without the additional spending. The government will soon have to cut shipments. monoclonalAntibodies will be reduced by 30% as soon as next week In AprilThe administration will end a program that reimbursed providers to test, trace and treat uninsured patients. People without insurance face a daunting task. catastropheIf they have COVID, or require an additional booster shot. Fears of unknown medical costs could also prevent people without insurance from seeking preemptive treatment or care, potentially further aggravating community spread.

The disasters don’t stop there. Domestic testing manufacturers will not be supported. June. A senior official from the administration told reporters that without more funding, the federal government “will lack the funding needed to accelerate research and development of next-generation vaccines that provide broader and more durable protection, including a vaccine that protects against a range of variants.” The administration had planned to make second booster shots available to the public at large in the fall if experts deemed it scientifically necessary, but that’s at risk now as well.

Taken together, this means the United States isn’t prepared to deal with future COVID variants, an entirely different pandemic, or even the existing levels of spread currently in the country. Even though cases have declined dramatically since the Omicron spike, the U.S. remains a strong country. registeringOn average, there are almost 30,000 cases per day and approximately 830 deaths.

As The Atlantic’s Ed Yong argues, existing U.S. pandemic measures were “already insufficient” to the task at hand. “These measures needed to be strengthened, not weakened even further,” Yong writes. “Abandoning them assumes that the U.S. will not need to respond to another large COVID surge, when such events are likely, in no small part because of the country’s earlier failures. And even if no such surge materializes, another infectious threat inevitably will.” He adds that the United States is now “sprinting” towards the next pandemic.

Instead of creating the kind of robust, lasting institutions and programs that could respond to the country’s current as well as short-term and long-term needs, Congress is burying its head in the sand. Cutting funding for COVID is the definition of penny-wise, pound foolish. Or, to quote a medical aphorism: An ounce of prevention is better than a pound cure. Instead of focusing on this period of relatively low community spread to strengthen our collective defenses and prepare for the worst, Congress is playing the dice and betting that we will be able to overcome the pandemic.

This is a good time to reflect on the immense success of COVID vaccine development: success that was paid for directly and supported by public money. If there is a lesson to be taken from March 2020 until now, it’s that the U.S. federal government is actually capable of making people’s lives better if it allocates the necessary resources to do so. In a more just world, the vaccines themselves would be owned by the public and distributed globally, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s in our own collective self-interest to deprive the virus of communities to spread and mutate. That’s not the world we live in, but it would be a mistake not to embrace the successes we’ve seen over the last two years, even if they need to be reframed away from the logic of public-private partnerships.

The pandemic demonstrated that federal spending can have enormous public benefits. Unfortunately, Congress seems back to a deficit-hawk, austerity-based mindset. That’s not a surprise, but it does mean that public health in this country is at risk over the next several months, let alone the next several decades.