Learning to Live with Our New Reality

COVID isn’t going away

More than two years since the pandemic began, the virus that causes COVID-19 is still a big part of our everyday lives, says Soniya Gandhi, MD, associate chief medical officer and vice president of Medical Affairs at Cedars-Sinai. While vaccines, new medications, more testing options, and natural immunity among those who have recovered from the disease have changed the big picture, it is still necessary to prepare for how COVID-19 will affect our lives in the coming years. At present, it is still unclear how long immunity from booster shots will last.

“However we choose to live our lives in a post-pandemic world, it’s important for all of us to retain a sense of social responsibility,” says Gandhi, “we need to recognize that our individual actions will continue to affect the health of our fellow citizens.”

Twenty-seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing majority of the US population now has some immunity to the virus, whether from vaccination, a past infection, or both, writes Dhruv Khullar of The New Yorker.

The bad news
Astonishingly, infectious members of the Omicron family have demonstrated an ability to evade some of those protections. Since April, they have led to a quadrupling of daily coronavirus cases; the US has been reporting more than a hundred thousand a day, but because widely used at-home tests don’t show up in official tallies, the true number could be five or even ten times higher.

More bad news
People who have recovered from Omicron BA.1 infections can be reinfected by Omicron subvariants. According to some estimates, the US could see a hundred million coronavirus infections this coming fall and winter. “This is approaching one of the most transmissible pathogens in history,” says Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

Even worse news
In April, less than a third of Americans said that they were even “somewhat worried” about getting COVID-19, the lowest proportion since July, 2021, and fewer people were socially distancing than at any time during the pandemic. One-third of the population believes that the pandemic is over, including more than half of unvaccinated Americans and nearly six in ten Republicans.

This attitude is partly due to an indisputable reduction in the most serious consequences of COVID-19. For people who’ve received a booster shot, COVID is on par with the flu. But our apathy also seems related to pandemic fatigue—an inability or unwillingness to devote more resources to a problem that refuses to leave us alone. Congress has so far failed to fund an adequate supply of vaccines, tests, and treatments suggesting that the country has retreated not only from controversial mandates but from the most basic tools of public health.

How to live with COVID

As the Omicron wave subsides in regions across the world, more governments, politicians, and health officials are telling us it’s time to start “living with the virus.” That means acknowledging that eradication of COVID, as we did with smallpox, is not feasible,” says Maria Sundaram, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute. “Instead, we’ll need to rely on an arsenal of tools — including vaccines, paid sick leave, and masks — to coexist with the virus while reducing our own risk and protecting others. “We should each reflect on how we live with other viruses that routinely circulate, such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, noroviruses, and others,” suggests Sundaram, and apply the lessons learned from those experiences.