The Pandemic Isn’t Over Until It’s Over for Everyone

Lambert: ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

By Pastor Daniel Schultz, a United Church of Christ minister in Wisconsin. Republished from Alternet.

Two weeks ago, Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, made a remarkable misstatement that received remarkably little attention. It will no doubt get less now with the end of Roe looming.

Still, it’s worth reflecting on.

Fauci believes the US is “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase” and “in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” per the Post.

How do we know this is a flub?

He quickly backpedaled.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic.”

He seems to have meant to communicate that the US was moving out of an acute and “full-blown” phase of the pandemic into something perhaps a bit less threatening.

It may not have been Fauci’s best move.

For one thing, covid infections continue to creep up around the US. It’s nowhere near the omicron peak, to be sure, but experts continue to worry about the pace of covid mutation. They warn that there’s no guarantee the next wave will be better than the last. That puts Fauci’s declaration immediately at odds with the science.

Worse, it was staggeringly tone-deaf, coming a week before the US reached a grim milestone of 1 million deaths by the covid:

‘Each of those people touched hundreds of other people,’ said Diana Ordonez, whose husband, Juan Ordonez, died in April 2020 at age 40, five days before their daughter Mia’s fifth birthday. ‘It’s an exponential number of other people that are walking around with a small hole in their heart.’

As if that weren’t enough, at least one expert noted that Fauci’s words are sure to be misinterpreted by lay people who don’t catch nuances. That’s not to mention the mendacious anti-vaxxers who pounce on ill-formulated statements as proof the need for concern is past.

Misinterpretation could have obvious consequences, such as fueling the rejection of mask mandates. It might have less obvious ramifications like hastening the end of the declaration of a public health emergency, which would stop free vaccines, end CDC collection of covid data and potentially throw 13 million people off Medicaid.

More broadly, whenever someone drops a blanket declaration that the pandemic is over, it pushes people living with disabilities and other vulnerable populations quite literally to the margins.

As Beatrice Adler-Bolton points out, for all the talk of the mask mandate being lifted on airplanes, the biggest impact will be on public transportation: the immunocompromised, the disabled and other vulnerable people may be faced with life-threatening commutes.

From there, the circles only get wider.

The elderly are still at much higher risk of death by the covid. The “high risk” category is surprisingly broad, including people with diabetes, asthma, obesity or high blood pressure. And, of course, millions of people around the world have not yet been vaccinated.

Every one of us is connected by some degree to someone in at least one of these categories, for whom the pandemic is very much not over.

That’s if we don’t fit into one of them ourselves.

Whether the pandemic has run its course as a matter of epidemiology, as a matter for us, very little has changed. Those for whom the danger has waned are still called to keep community with those for whom it is a live, active threat. The American polity must honor its voices, tend to the needs of all its members and govern itself with an eye not just to the majority but with consideration for the most vulnerable.

The alternative is not an abandonment to heartless conservatism.

It’s not the halfway covenant of neoliberalism.

It’s collective suicide, of a sort.

The boundaries between vulnerable and strong are never as defined as might be supposed, for one thing. Every infection among the vulnerable is an opportunity for another among those who would like to think of themselves as strong. That is a particularly frightening fact, given the prospects of up to 100 million infections next fall and winter.

The pandemic is not over till it’s over for all of us.

Beatrice Adler-Bolton argues that society has the tools to allow people not just to survive the pandemic, but “to thrive in spite of it.

We could choose otherwise than to make the most vulnerable bear the cost of an ongoing pandemic by rushing to declare it over.

It is to our eternal shame that we almost certainly will not.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Carla

    “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members” — Mahatma Gandhi

    We are a tiny, puny little people, getting smaller and meaner by the day.

  2. Greg Gerner

    Can’t help but think of the following Biblical phrase as I contemplate the Biden Administration and CDC’s cavalier, amoral writing off of the great portion of the US population that cannot/will not protect itself from Covid infection. (PS: It’s called PUBLIC Health for a reason.)

    Matthew 25:40
    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

    1. The Historian

      Sorry, but ‘Christians’ don’t have to share the values of Jesus or even listen to his words – thanks to Paul, all they have to do is believe he died and was resurrected – nothing else matters! Pretty handy for all our politicians who are constantly flaunting their ‘religion’, doncha think?

  3. Arizona Slim

    Yet another article that laments the millions of people who have yet to receive the V, but nary a word about early treatment or preventative measures. (Vitamin D, anyone?)

  4. The Historian

    Another piece of anecdata:
    My daughter flew back from a conference in Texas 10 days ago – no masking, of course, because Covid is over – and came home with Covid. A large number – over half – of those who attended the conference also came down with Covid.

    My daughter is 50, fully vaccinated, but she got incredibly sick (she is now getting better, thank God). The home tests she took came back negative, but because she was so sick, she went to a doctor and got a PCR, which came back positive. Interestingly enough, the doctor did not offer her Paxlovid but just told her to take cold medicine.

    Also, when she told her supervisor, the supervisor said no problem – she could work from home. My son-in-law had to get on the phone and tell the supervisor that my daughter wasn’t working from anywhere, that she was SICK!

    I just looked at the Johns Hopkins numbers for Covid in the US. We now have more cases of Covid in this country than we had in the summer of 2020 when we began masking and taking Covid seriously. But now?

    1. Pat

      Talked with a professional associate, we have an in person meeting scheduled for later this month, and their son just came home with Covid. We discussed various matters, but it ended with them stating their confusion with how things were getting so bad. I didn’t explain.

      I really think there are a lot of people that are dealing with the cognitive dissonance of their experience vs. the official narrative. Although there has been some mild backing off, supposedly we were past the pandemic. But vaccinated people are getting sick and sicker than they were told would happen.

      Between inflation, gas prices and Covid, my personal bet is on Biden’s approval level making history as the lowest recorded rating since they started keeping track by Thanksgiving. Not even the deluded PMC class can ignore the destruction and debasement of public health processes forever.

  5. JAC

    And hunger is not over till everyone is fed, homelessness not over until everyone is housed…I could go on.

    1. Starry Gordon

      The last thing our rulers and leaders desire is for anyone to understand that we are inescapably one body. The whole way they structure their ideas and practices is to deny the obvious.

  6. Stick'em

    The most obvious problem with Fauci’s statement:

    “the US is out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase. The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that.”

    is the imaginary separation between the US and the world. If COVID infects 1.5 million in North Korea within 72 hours:

    then there is a huge repository of virus which will necessariy reinfect people in the US at some future point.

    There are borders on a map, which make China and Korea and Russia appear separate from the US, so emotionally we can wag the finger and scapegoat ’em for our collective public health problems. But these lines on a map don’t mean anything to a virus because viruses don’t take geography class. So it mutates and rides from a wave in one location to an outbreak in another.

    Until the world (and that means the whole world, not just the “civilized” white people) makes COVID go away collectively, it’s going to keep coming back like Jason Vorhees. This is basic epidemiology, so certainly Fauci was taught this principle in school at some point in his illustrious career.

    To say publicly or believe privately the pandemic is over, even in a neoliberal environment where public health supposedly doesn’t really exist because everything is about the individual’s right to profit from the “financial opportunity” COVID presents, is disengenous at best. The gubment flushed what crediblity the CDC and FDA had straight down the crapper with this chicanery. I went from being the biggest advocate of vaccines you’ve ever seen to “Meh, get it or don’t. Who knows if it helps” because of the constant lying from Fauci and the rest of our so-called “public health” leaders, and I presume many people feel the same way.

    1. Ahimsa

      “Until the world (and that means the whole world, not just the “civilized” white people) makes COVID go away collectively, it’s going to keep coming back like Jason Vorhees.”

      Happy to be corrected, but I don’t think the world (“civilized” or otherwise) has ever succesfully eradicated an endemic coronavirus.

      So yes, it’s going to keep coming back (seasonally at the very least).

  7. Mimi

    Little note from the DMV area surrounding our ever-blinder-driven leaders…

    All around me friends and colleagues are coming down with Covid…more than during any other surge we have seen. It definitely supports the real data (climbing waste water, hospitals over taxed).

    For the entire pandemic our family has kept ourselves and our closest contacts safe, foregoing travel, celebrations, the likes, we all get that here on NC…I made it through a difficult pregnancy and weekly doctors appts, as well as delivery during the last December surge in an overpacked-understaffed hospital in MD. We have taken the actual numbers and science seriously — maybe my background in biochem and neuroscience helps, but I think its more likely that I am obsessed with truth over doctrine. I follow the numbers on NC through Lambert’s Water Cooler and all the incredible work in the Links, Articles, and comments on NC…my siblings and I have a genetic disorder that predisposes us to dysautonomia so Long Covid is a real worry for us. I have likely passed it on to my two sons (one toddler and one baby) and I worry about their future quality of life (for so many reasons beyond covid as well)

    Last week a family brought Covid to my oldest’s family daycare where we have masked, kept kids home whenever there is a sign of sickness, and limited our home exposure to keep others safe for years now with amazing success despite many children having older sibs in the public school system. Over the past few months I have seen parents stop wearing masks and the kids too as restrictions and mandates fall. I almost pulled him out the week before because of the numbers I saw on NC…I dearly wish I had.

    My oldest had a high fever (102-3) for 48 hours and a cough, chills, aches, and back pain as well as some gi/vomiting. The baby started a fever yesterday. I am just so angry — a newer family that clearly thinks this is just a hassle just brought a sick kid for one day…so they could work…and then cost us all weeks and potentially years of health. We have masked and isolated as best we can with the littles but there were 3 days of exposure before it was known that anyone had Covid. The on-call nurse I spoke to said its a huge surge and no one is talking about it. I am still negative on the PCR and Rapids, but we shall see. As a parent of littles I feel completely left behind by the administration and the country, as someone with pre-existing conditions I just feel scared.

    1. megrim

      I’m sorry to hear about your troubles. I hope your kids get better soon (and that you don’t get covid too)!

      1. Mimi

        Thanks! I hope so too. Taking it hour by hour…toddler’s starting to go stir crazy…

  8. Soredemos

    This seems like a good topic to post my recent personal experience on:

    A couple days ago I attended a medical school graduation ceremony (DOs, not MDs, which are basically MDs with extra training in manipulation which may or may not actually do anything, but is a nice placebo if nothing else).

    It was a complete disaster in terms of covid prevention, ie, there basically was none. The venue was an indoor theater. Maybe 5% of the people there had wore any kind of mask, and maybe 3 (three) total wore N95 masks (I was one of them). These were the medical school staff and students, who all worse cloth masks, and the theater staff, who all wore surgical masks. Essentially no one in the audience wore anything. There were some signs that said masks weren’t required but were ‘encouraged’, but as far as I could see there was no encouraging going on anywhere. We were like this, inside, for 2+ hours. Oh, and this was the day after the celebratory student event at a bar, where literally no one wore any kind of mask. Yeah, just let the kids run around in that; I’m sure it’ll be fine.

    This at an event for the next generation of doctors, overseen by veteran doctors.

    This country is screwed.

  9. Lexx

    ‘The boundaries between vulnerable and strong are never as defined as might be supposed.’

    Word, brother.

  10. QR

    But if the government actually did that work to protect people, they’d have less time for the important things, like tweaking their spin in the face of narratively inconvenient facts.

    Case in point: MN (for which Walgreens reported a 30% test positivity rate yesterday) elaborately re-spun their breakthrough cases page this week (it’s updated on a weekly basis):

    No doubt coincidentally, the page graphs’ views default to hospitalization, rather than the less narratively persuasive data on cases (for adults, highest in boosted cohort for over a month) and deaths (for adults, at a rate essentially identical across cohorts since late March, then in early May became highest in “fully vaccinated” cohort).

    Long covid doesn’t merit mention.

    Previous versions of the MN breakthrough cases page are archived at that URL on Wayback. (No doubt coincidentally, even before this most recent re-spin, their breakthrough case data lagged by over a month.)

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