After almost two years of dealing with COVID-19 and its variants, is it time to stop fighting the virus and just learn to live with it? Some experts say yes.
And those experts – six in total – have very good credentials as all of them were part of an advisory board of health experts who helped President Joe Biden’s administration transition into the White House.
All of them have formerly held high-ranking government positions with one – Dr. David Michaels – being a former head of OSHA who is currently with George Washington University’s School of Public Health.
Call for a new pandemic strategy
This group of experts has begun to publicly request the Biden administration “to adopt an entirely new domestic pandemic strategy geared to the ‘new normal’ of living with the virus indefinitely, not to wiping it out,” according to the New York Times.
The Biden administration’s pandemic strategy was “executed very well … through June,” but the Delta variant upset those plans and a new strategy has since been released to address the surge of the new Omicron variant that began spreading across the U.S. in the winter of 2021.
And many of the steps the six experts suggest – things like faster vaccine development, real-time data collection by the CDC, and a corps of community public health workers – are already addressed under the new federal strategy.
Freedom from a ‘perpetual state of emergency’
But Dr. Michaels and his group feel the U.S. “must avoid becoming stuck in a perpetual state of emergency,” recognize COVID-19 is one of several respiratory viruses circulating and develop a plan that addresses all of them at once.
That means adopting a farther reaching strategy that includes controversial measures such as vaccine mandates and even a national digital verification system for vaccinations, according to the group of experts.
Goals and specific benchmarks should be laid out on what number of hospitalizations and deaths from respiratory viruses, including influenza and COVID-19, should prompt emergency mitigation and other measures.
That would better prepare the U.S. for what this group calls “inevitable outbreaks” from new coronavirus variants.
Vaccines “are going to get weaker and eventually fail,” one expert told the New York Times. “We have to put a plan in place to continually update our vaccines, our diagnostics and our genomics so we can catch this early. Because the variants will come, and we should never be surprised and we should never underestimate this virus.”
How to move forward
How is the Biden administration supposed to do this? The experts say the first step is to look past Omicron and acknowledge it may not mark the end of the pandemic.
They also state that the administration must acknowledge that the current rate of hospitalizations and deaths – more than 1,300 lives each day – from COVID-19 is “unacceptably high.”
So how should the U.S. go about living with COVID-19? Dr. Michaels and his group say the country should:
- develop next-generation COVID vaccines that could take new forms such as nasal sprays or skin patches
- develop a universal coronavirus vaccine to combat all known coronaviruses
- upgrade the public health infrastructure
- invest in more rapid coronavirus tests and distribute them for free
- impose vaccine mandates more broadly, including for schoolchildren
- make N95 masks free and available to everyone, and
- make oral treatments for COVID-19 free and available to everyone.