On the third anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus is still spreading and the death toll approaches 7 million worldwide. Still, most people have resumed their normal lives, thanks to an immunity barrier built up by previous infections and vaccines.
The virus appears to be here to stay, along with the threat of a more dangerous version sweeping the planet. “New variants emerging anywhere threaten us everywhere,” said virus researcher Thomas Friedrich of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Maybe this will help people understand how connected we are.”
With information sources scarce, it became more difficult to follow the pandemic. Johns Hopkins University on Friday, March 10, shut down its trusty tracker, which was created as soon as the virus emerged in China and spread around the world.
Saturday 11 marks three years since the World Health Organization first called the outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and the UN agency says it is still not in a position to say the emergency is over.
A look at the current situation: the virus persists
The pandemic still kills between 900 and 1,000 people a day worldwide, and the stealthy virus that causes Covid-19 has not lost its grip. It spreads easily from person to person, hitching a ride in respiratory droplets through the air, killing a few victims but allowing most to recover without major harm.
“Whatever the virus is currently doing, it is still working to find another winning path,” says Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Translational Research Institute.
We are numb to the daily death toll, says Topol, but we must consider it too high.
Just think that, in the United States, the number of daily hospitalizations and deaths, although lower than in the worst peaks, has not yet reached the low levels reached in mid-2021, before the wave of the delta variant.
At any time, the virus can change to become more transmissible, better able to evade the immune system, or more lethal. Topol says we’re not ready for that.
Trust in public health agencies was undermined, promoting an exodus of public health professionals. Resistance to stay-at-home guidelines and vaccination demands could be the legacy of the pandemic.
“I would like us to unite against the enemy, the virus, not against each other,” Topol said.
There is another way of looking at the situation. Humans cracked the genetic code of the virus and quickly developed vaccines that work amazingly well. We build mathematical models to prepare for worst-case scenarios. We continue to monitor the virus changes by checking the viral load in the sewage.
“The pandemic has really catalyzed incredible scientific output,” says Friedrich.
The achievements make up a new normal in which Covid-19 “doesn’t have to be at the forefront of people’s thinking,” says Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at Emory University.
“That, at least, is a victory.” The Doctor. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, explains that current Omicron variants have about 100 genetic differences from the original strain of the coronavirus. This means that approximately 1% of the virus genome is different from the starting point.
Many of these changes have made it more contagious, but the worst is probably over because of the population’s immunity.
Matthew Binnicker, an expert on viral infections at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says the world is in “a very different situation today than it was three years ago – when there was essentially no existing immunity against the virus. original”.
This extreme vulnerability called for measures designed to “flatten the curve”. Shops and schools closed, weddings and funerals were postponed. Masks and “social distancing” later gave way to proof of vaccinations. Currently, such precautions are rare.
“We’re not likely to go back to where we were, because there’s already so much of the virus that our immune systems can recognize,” says Ray. Our immunity must protect us “from the worst of what we’ve seen before.”
Lack of real-time data
On Friday, the 10th, Johns Hopkins University made a final update to its dashboard and map of coronavirus hotspots, with a tally of more than 6.8 million deaths worldwide. Their government sources for real-time numbers had been drastically reduced. In the US, only New York, Arkansas and Puerto Rico still publish daily numbers of cases and deaths.
“We rely so heavily on public data, and it just doesn’t exist,” said Beth Blauer, the project’s data coordinator.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still tracks various information from states, hospitals and testing laboratories, including cases, hospitalizations, deaths and which strains of the coronavirus are being detected. However, in many respects, there is less data currently available, and it has been less up-to-date.
“People expect to receive data from us that we will no longer be able to produce,” says CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
At the international level, WHO monitoring of COVID-19 depends on individual country reports. World health officials have expressed concern that their numbers seriously underestimate what is really happening, and that they do not give a true picture of the epidemic.
The CDC has for more than a year been neglecting case counts and test results, in part because of the rise in unreported home testing. The agency focuses on admissions, which are still reported daily, although this could change.
Reporting of deaths continues, although it has come to rely less on daily reports and more on death certificates, which can take days or weeks to arrive.
US officials say they are adjusting to the circumstances and trying to adopt a tracking system similar in some measure to the way the CDC monitors the flu.
Before and after
“I wish we could go back to the way it was before Covid,” says Kelly Forrester, 52, of Shakopee, Minnesota, USA, who lost her father to the disease in May 2020, survived her own infection in December, and blames her misinformation for ruining a long-standing friendship.
“I hate it. I really hate it.” For her, the disease seems random. “You don’t know who will survive, who will have a long covid or a mild cold. And then other people end up dying in the hospital.”
Forrester’s father, Virgil Michlitsch, an 80-year-old retiree who worked as a meat packer, delivery boy and school janitor, died in a nursing home as his wife, daughters and granddaughters stood vigil outside in folding chairs.
For Forrester, not being able to be at his father’s bedside “was the hardest thing”.
Inspired by the impact of the pandemic, her 24-year-old daughter is pursuing a graduate degree in public health. “My father would have been very proud of her,” says Forrester.
“I’m glad that she believed in that, that she wanted to do this and make things better for people.”