Emergency: COVID's not done with us
The more we want COVID to be behind us, the more the virus says it's not ready to leave.
While many of us have signaled we were ready to move on, state and federal governments had continued the State of Emergency for COVID into this year.
California's declaration, though, expired at the end of February and the federal emergency order is due to end May 11.
Many health care professionals caution that not only is the virus still prevalent, but that many people will either ignore basic health protocols or fall through the cracks due to a lack of health insurance or access to treatment. Still, the end of these orders mark a major shift after three years of restrictions and after more than 100,000 people in California have died due to COVID-19.
Nationally, although cases have significantly decreased since the worst days of the virus, 500 Americans are dying from COVID-19 every day. The coronavirus is still the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. COVID-19 remains much more contagious and three times more deadly than the flu.
In California, with the end of the emergency orders, one major shift will be that public health agencies will no longer serve as the primary providers of COVID care. Already, the state has closed all most of its testing and vaccination centers. The state, however, will continue to stockpile masks and vaccines. When the federal declaration ends in May, so will free vaccines and booster shots.
COVID care will shift mainly to doctors and pharmacies and public health departments will continue to transition to combatting all infectious diseases.
But a kind of “what are you gonna do?” fatalism has settled in among many about the efficacy of vaccines, which we now know do not prevent COVID but are proven to protect against the devastating impacts of long COVID as well as dramatically lessen the chances of being hospitalized or dying from the virus – and help protect others who are at high risk.
And yet, sadly, it seems unlikely that many of us will stay current on vaccines and receive the most recent booster shots.
The public skepticism over COVID policies probably has only increased with the latest jousting over the origin of the virus and the “lab leak theory.”
The most plausible version of this is that the virus accidentally leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, where scientists may have been studying it, and possibly engineered it, for research and medical purposes.
This theory, however, does not enter into the realm of conspiracy theory by alleging that lab scientists created COVID as a bioweapon or that China intentionally leaked the virus.
It also differs from the “natural origins theory” that animal-to-human transmission is the predominant origin of viral diseases and that the first confirmed COVID cases were linked to an animal market in Wuhan.
Many government and public health officials now seem unsure about the origin (although the longstanding denigration of the possibility of the possibility of a lab leak now seems unwarranted) – and with China not allowing any independent investigation, does it really matter?
It does. COVID has killed nearly seven million people worldwide, including 1.1 million in the U.S. Determining its cause matters. The truth matters.
As the search for the origin continues, the emergency phase of the pandemic is over.
That doesn't mean letting down our vigilance against COVID. It does mean staying up to date on vaccines; continuing to mask, especially at health care and crowded indoor facilities; and quarantining for at least five days if you contract COVID.