Is the pandemic over?

Joe Biden declared it so in a recent 60 Minutes interview and damn has that gotten a ton of pushback.

So, is it over?  To be only partially glib, it depends on what “pandemic” means and what “over” means.  Seriously.  Is American life very close to back to 2019 normal?  In many, many key indicators… yes.  I don’t know about you, but I’m living life pretty damn close to 2019 and so are the vast majority of people around me.  Importantly, hospitals and medical care are largely proceeding as normal.  That sounds like “over” to me.  On the other hand, roughly 400 people a day (that’s almost 150K a year!) are still dying of Covid.  Whoa… not over!  

But there’s also not exactly a clear definition and/or criteria of when a pandemic becomes “endemic.”  Covid is still clearly a worldwide disease of significant concern– pandemic! But, given that it’s almost certainly not going away anytime soon, and we’re not in any type of emergency/crisis phase, it really does seem more endemic than pandemic.

Here’s what I will say and what actually pisses me off.  It is perfectly reasonable to declare the pandemic “over.”  It is also perfectly reasonable to declare the pandemic “not over.”  There’s plenty of evidence and sufficient ambiguity about the key terms to make the case either way.  So, what bothers me is all the “God no it’s not over– how could Biden say that!  Here’s all the reasons it’s not over” takes.  Give me a little nuance.  Give me some, “well, actually, there are appropriate reasons to think the pandemic is over, but, I find these reasons more compelling to argue it’s still a pandemic.”  But, damn, I’ve seen none of that.  Just a bunch of “how dare Biden prematurely declare the pandemic over.

If given the choice between “over” and “not over” I’m personally going with “over” but in doing so fully recognizing that there’s a very good case for “not over” and that somebody who thinks “not over” is likely acting in good faith.  Is it too much to ask that we approach issues like this?  (Yes). 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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