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Analysis: It’s been 2 years since Covid changed our lives completely

If you thought coronavirus was no big deal or if you thought it was going to go away, wake up.

Your life is about to change.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, issued a disturbing warning during a White House briefing Tuesday: Americans everywhere need to change the way they live their lives. Right now.

“We would like the country to realize that as a nation, we can’t be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a state that has no cases or one case,” Fauci said.

Two years later, more than 967,500 people have died and about 79.5 million have been infected with a virus politicized by an already fractured nation. Our relationship with work, travel and the people around us is profoundly different.
We had no idea how much things would change. And how could we? Remember the Trump administration’s 15-day plan to “slow the spread”? How about the toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortages? The closed parks and beaches? What about your first Zoom meeting?
Our understanding of the virus has changed dramatically since then, and so have our lives alongside it. Social distancing and disinfectant wipes gave way to masks and vaccines. Stores, offices and schools slowly reopened, albeit with some public health measures in place depending on state and local guidelines. And after some repeat closures (again, depending on the region) most are open again or about to be. Pandemic updates have fallen off front pages and become less a focus of political talking points, especially with the world focused on a war.

The biggest change has been more subtle. While the first shutdowns were a shock to the national conscious, a similarly seismic shift in the pandemic hasn’t commanded the same attention: We appear to be standing on the edge of the endemic phase.

Here’s how CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta puts it:

Although the line was clear entering the pandemic, it will be much fuzzier as we approach endemicity. A disease is considered endemic when it is a “constant presence … within a given geographic area or population group.” It would also be predictable in its rate of spread without causing the level of disruption it does in a pandemic.

But what is considered disruptive may be very different in one country compared with another, even from one person to the next. Progressing into this next phase will be based on a blend of science and judgment.

Learning to live with Covid-19 rather than eradicating it is a tough pill to swallow. But for many, this may be the moment when we can start to get back to our regular lives.

Take it from President Joe Biden. The US must stay on its guard but may be able to “move forward safely” into a less disruptive phase, he said in his first State of the Union address earlier this month, in which he outlined his plan to live with Covid-19.

“Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, Covid-19 need no longer control our lives,” Biden said as he acknowledged that Americans are “tired, frustrated and exhausted” with the pandemic.

We’re all going to experience this next phase differently. Healthy young Americans who are vaccinated and boosted, for example, are set for a return to something near normal.

But those at high risk for severe disease say doing away with public health measures like indoor masking leaves them more vulnerable, especially as they, or family members, return to in-person work or school. Roughly 7 million American adults are immunocompromised, the CDC estimates.

While not all have conditions that leave them severely immunocompromised and vulnerable to severe Covid-19, about 61 million adults — roughly one in four in the US — have some type of disability, according to the agency.

More than 3 million children had a disability in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.

What are the numbers saying? As the last two years have made clear, predicting what’s around the corner is a dangerous game. That said, the numbers in the US look good at the moment.

Only 2% of the population — about 7 million people — live in a county with a “high” Covid-19 community level, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rest are at “low” or “medium” community levels, areas where there’s no recommendation to wear a mask or where the immunocompromised should take extra precautions.
In fact, over the next four weeks, the CDC forecasts decreases in hospitalizations and deaths. The trend could continue, particularly as the weather improves and people head outside, where it’s less likely that they’ll catch Covid.

These positive trends could mean the US will see a normal or at least near-normal spring and summer (future variants depending, of course).

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