By Ahmed Aboulenein
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – What is the status of COVID-19 now that President Joe Biden has told the CBS 60 Minutes news program the pandemic is over in the United States?
HAS THE U.S. FORMALLY DECLARED THE END OF THE PANDEMIC?
No. The United States is still operating under the public health emergency, first declared in January 2020.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to renew that designation in October but then let the public health emergency expire in January 2023.
Health officials like White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha have as recently as this month said “the pandemic is not over,” but have acknowledged that there is a shift under way in its fight against the virus.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week that the “end is in sight” for the pandemic, but still urged nations to maintain their vigilance.
WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH COVID-19 NOW?
The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed over 6.5 million people – including 1 million this year – and infected 608 million people.
Vaccines and treatments have helped lower death rates, and global deaths from COVID-19 last week were the lowest since March 2020, according to the WHO.
In the United States, an average of nearly 400 people a day continue to die from COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an average of over 4,300 are hospitalized each day.
WHAT SIGNS ARE THERE OF A PANDEMIC IN RETREAT?
Biden made his comments on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show, the largest in North America, where the president noted that very few people around him were wearing masks.
CDC mask guidelines since February have recommended that people in counties with low or medium COVID-19 levels – now almost 87% of the country – do not need to wear masks indoors.
U.S. government agencies have also dropped mask requirements in federal buildings in the Washington area and other places with low or medium levels of COVID-19.
The federal government stopped requiring masks on public transportation after the courts said it did not have the authority to do so. Most states have also lifted mask requirements, including New York, as they try to persuade more workers to return to offices.
Most schools nationwide are abandoning remote learning for in-person classes and the CDC said last month it would no longer recommend quarantines for people exposed to the virus, making it easier for teachers and students to remain in class.
The CDC also no longer recommends unvaccinated people quarantine after exposure. Around 95% of the U.S. population has either been vaccinated, had COVID-19 already, or both, it said.
The United States has just begun a new COVID vaccination campaign with boosters tailored to the Omicron variant that leading infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci compared to the annual flu vaccination efforts.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Caroline Humer and Howard Goller)