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COVID-19 remains a major cause of illness and death worldwide

Covid-19 latest news
Covid-19 latest news

KDRTV News Boston-COVID remains a major cause of illness and death worldwide. Is it still a pandemic?

According to Professor Eleanor J. Murray, Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology, There are two things to consider in answering this question. First, how widespread does a disease need to be for us to call it a pandemic? The original SARS cases in 2003 met the definition of a pandemic because the virus spread in Asia and in North America, but the size of this pandemic was much smaller. COVID-19 has caused almost 800 million cases of disease worldwide since January 2020, and over 7 million deaths. That’s 100,000 times as many cases as SARS in 2003, and 10,000 times as many deaths; in fact, these numbers are likely underestimated. Right now, COVID cases are still happening widely. In December 2023, the WHO reported 1.2 million COVID cases and 9,575 deaths worldwide. Viewed this way, COVID is definitely still a pandemic.

The answer to our question also relies on how many cases of the disease we normally expect. And this is where governments have flexibility in deciding whether we are in a pandemic. In January 2020, less than 100 cases had ever been reported anywhere. By January 2021, there were 5 million cases per week; in January 2022 and 2023, there were over 20 million cases per week. How many cases we have today in January 2024 is less clear—the end of the emergency has led to a dramatic reduction in testing. The CDC still reports COVID hospitalizations, and, in the week of January 6, 2024, there were about 35,000 hospitalizations due to COVID across the US. By comparison, there were 44,000 hospitalizations at the same time in 2023. These numbers are not very different.

But are these numbers higher than expected or is this just our new normal? The answer to that question is the key to whether we call COVID a pandemic or not. The WHO has ended their public health emergency for COVID, but they still call COVID a pandemic. This reflects their perspective that millions of cases of a relatively new disease every week around the world is not a scenario we should just accept as normal.

All pandemics end eventually. Some, like SARS, end with the rapid elimination of disease. Others, like the plague, end with the disease finally fading into obscurity. Still others, like the 1918 influenza pandemic, see the disease growing milder without disappearing. And some, like smallpox, continue to cause high levels of illness, death, and disability, until we all agree that enough is enough and take action.

With nearly as many hospitalizations in January 2024 as in January 2023, it’s clear that COVID is not growing milder and it’s not fading away. The real question, then, is not whether COVID is still a pandemic, but how much COVID illness and death are we willing to accept?

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