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Littwin: More and more people are apparently done with COVID, but is COVID actually done with us?

Denver is dropping its mask-or-vax mandate for indoor settings, although Mayor Michael Hancock still encourages wearing masks when appropriate — because they work.

It requires no special insight to realize that the national mood on the pandemic is in the process of making a dramatic shift, even as the “mild” omicron variant continues to kill Americans at a disturbingly high rate.

There is hope, even among some medical scientists, that after omicron finally leaves us, the pandemic will turn to endemic, meaning a virus whose dangers we can agree to tolerate, much as we do the flu.

But then there is this piece in The Atlantic explaining that simply saying a virus is now endemic means next to nothing. The authors cite Stanford’s Abraar Karan, who explains, “You can have endemicity and have a lot of infections, or you can have endemicity and have very few infections. What we do is what determines the difference between those two things.” 

Mike Littwin

From Yale, Brandon Ogbunu describes the difference between pandemic and endemic as “how much we care” about a given disease, which is not always in line with, say, how medical science sees the disease.

An increasing number of people — and not necessarily just among the antivaxxers or even the likes of Lara Logan, the most recent Fox News, uh, personality to actually compare Dr. Fauci to Dr. Mengele — have decided that they are so over COVID. They’re done. Finito. Finished. They include many people who have actively resisted the virus to this point and have decided that enough is enough. And, I guess, anti-mandate Jared Polis, who was interviewed for a New York Times podcast the other day about what host Kara Swisher calls Polis’ “laissez-faire” approach to the virus.

And so the city of Denver and some of the surrounding counties have decided to end their mask-or-vax mandates, even as Mayor Michael Hancock says he “encourages” people to still wear masks indoors and, of course, to get all their shots, including a booster.

He encourages masks — and Denver will still require them in schools and other sites — because they work. He is ending the mandate because people have grown weary of fighting the virus and desperately want to strike a truce, even if the virus has never shown any inclination to play by rules set by anyone else.

The thing is, no one — as in no one — actually knows when or whether COVID-19 will be done with us. It certainly isn’t yet, unless you consider the 2,558 reported  dead nationally from COVID on one day, Jan. 31st, to be acceptable.

In a Washington Post analysis, Philip Bump makes a provocative, and masterful, stroke. He had seen a Jan. 30th tweet pointing out that more Americans had died of COVID in the previous 11 days than had been murdered in America in any given year. OK, you might want to reread that sentence: more COVID deaths from the mild omicron in 11 days than from murders — now considered a national crisis — in any given year.

Bump has more data. As the number of American deaths from COVID heads inevitably toward a million, all within the past two years, the COVID death numbers are approximately the same as the number of all the Americans who have been murdered since — wait for it — 1975.

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The difference between the murder and the pandemic death toll is, of course, that COVID deaths are basically preventable. There are a lot of statistics, but here’s a personal favorite. For those over 50 — and I’m, let’s say, well beyond that — the unvaccinated are 68 times more likely to die if infected by COVID than those who have been vaccinated and boosted. It’s astonishing, but true. 

In response to Bump, one reader couldn’t help tweeting this: “Guns don’t kill people. COVID does.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, one of my go-to sources on COVID is John Barry, who wrote the definitive book on the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.”

In an op-ed in the New York Times Tuesday, Barry explains that the conventional history is that the 1918 flu pandemic basically ended the next year and became a seasonal flu after that. But he says that’s wrong, that there was a deadly fourth wave in 1920 that has not only been forgotten by historians, but was largely ignored by most people at the time, even as it ravaged many midwestern cities in the United States, including Kansas City, Mo., Minneapolis and Detroit. Again, society was over it.

The next year, in 1921, it did, in fact, begin to become a seasonal virus, but, as Barry writes, “the world had moved on well before.”

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He worries about that happening again. We still see the unfortunate lies about the vaccines at work. There is the story of a man who desperately needs a kidney transplant, but can’t receive one, the hospital tells him, unless he has been vaccinated. He has refused to get the vaccine, saying “I was born free, I’ll die free.” You may recall the story from last year of the Colorado Springs woman, Leilani Lutali, who similarly refused to get vaccinated for COVID in order to get a transplant.

But the story is moving beyond the extreme cases like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who seems to be basing a presidential bid on loudly opposing all mandates, or even the misinformation spewed by the likes of Joe Rogan on his top-rated podcast, the one that drove Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and others to pull their songs from Spotify unless Rogan goes. Rogan has now sort-of apologized and is saying he’ll make sure to have guests with a wider range of views.

The story now is about weariness and the hope that the eventual end of omicron will indeed end the pandemic. In a recent Monmouth poll, 70% agreed with the sentiment that “it’s time we accept that Covid is here to stay and we just need to get on with our lives.”

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But, of course, there’s a wide, wide world where many billions don’t yet even have access to the vaccines, making new mutations more than possible. And only 30% of the fully vaccinated have gotten their booster shots. And even as we desperately try to keep our schools open, only 19% of kids 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated. Only 28% have gotten even one shot.

If 70% of Americans are ready to move on, I guess that puts me in the minority — what’s new? — once again. We’re so fortunate that there are ever-easier steps to follow — using the miracle vaccines at our disposal, taking advantage of the new treatments fast becoming available, testing when the tests are again available and, yes, masking where necessary — to actually get back to somewhere near normal.

It seems we’re getting close. Just not close enough.


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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