With the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in some places and outbreaks appearing in others, the pandemic has officially entered the Strange Zone.
Okay, there’s nothing official about it, but the whole world is in a weird time of transition right now – and probably will be for a while. Unlike the leap into the pandemic, or even the ramp-up of the vaccine, this time is more optimistic, less frantic, but also stretched out in an uneven mess. Places, populations and even industries change at different rates as they return to a semblance of normalcy.
It’s like the whole world is playing with a perverted version of “yes, and”. Yes, more people are vaccinated in the United States than ever before, and immunocompromised people are always at risk. Yes, the vaccines we have are incredibly effective, and they are so rare that many countries are absolutely desperate to obtain them.
Here in the United States, one of the most visible transitions is the act of disappearance of various COVID-19 regulations. New York City lifted most restrictions this week, and Disneyland has reopened to everyone, with no mask requirements. Residents of these areas are enjoying a return to offices, restaurants and a blessed normalcy, especially in areas with low case rates. At the same time, parts of the country where vaccination rates have remained low face the potential for summer flare-ups. Tensions between different regions will persist as long as disparities persist.
In pharmaceutical and research, there is a different change. The flurry of clinical trials and lab work that accompanied vaccine development is now slowing. There are still thousands of questions, but the biggest and most urgent: can we make a vaccine? – received a response. Today, the lines of research have shifted and divided. Some are still working on vaccines and boosters, others are studying new COVID-19 drugs or seeking to understand the origins and mechanisms of the virus, and others have returned entirely to different projects. With vaccines, the biggest issues now are surveillance and distribution, not research and development.
What people think about all of these changes is a whole different factor – personal shifts in priorities, fears and emotions are going to play a huge role in this next phase of the pandemic. As vaccinations increase and the number of cases decreases, eventually we will get used to the coronavirus, and it will cease to be an unknown threat. We will stop thinking about it every day – some people have already done so.
In the meantime, most people are stuck somewhere between caution and surrender. Each person will eventually go beyond their own personal marker for the era of the pandemic. It can happen when they get that second hit or walk into a theater for the first time or leave a mask sitting on the table at home. As with all transitions, something will end and something else will take its place.
As a quick note before I get into what happened with COVID-19 this week, I also wanted to note that you might see some new (small) changes in this newsletter. Finally, we will move the newsletter to a weekday instead of a Saturday. And from next week, I’ll hand over the reins to Nicole Wetsman, The edgehealth reporter. She replaces regularly, but I’m delighted that she writes to you more regularly.
Some things will not change, at least not yet. We will continue to cover the pandemic and keep you posted on what is happening around the world.
Thank you very much for joining us every week.
People hospitalized with COVID-19 now have one overwhelming thing in common. They are not vaccinated.
In the United States, there is more evidence that vaccines are extremely effective. Doctors and health systems are increasingly reporting that COVID-19 patients presenting for treatment are not vaccinated. (Elizabeth Weise and Aleszu Bajak /USA today)
Struggling hospitals could explain why so many black patients died from COVID-19
A study released this week found that one of the reasons for the horrific disparities in deaths from COVID-19 in the United States may come down to a lack of health resources in hospitals that serve black patients. (Stephanie M Lee /BuzzFeed News)
CureVac fails pivotal COVID-19 vaccine trial with 47% efficacy
Another mRNA vaccine has just completed a clinical trial, showing only 47% effectiveness against the virus. This is a setback for the vaccine, which some hoped would help boost the global supply. (Ludwig Burger / Reuters)
In Pfizer’s Race to Produce the World’s Largest COVID Vaccine Supply
A look at the company’s race to produce its new vaccine on an unprecedented scale. (Christophe Rowland /Le Washington Post)
A pill to treat Covid-19? The United States is betting on it.
$ 3 billion has now been set aside to help researchers get started on treatment for COVID-19. Instead of a vaccine, which prevents the virus from setting in, treatment would fight the disease when a person actually has it. (Carl Zimmer /Le New York Times)
India is fighting COVID-19 on WhatsApp
Accredited social health activists are the foot soldiers of India’s rural health system. Lately, they have also taken on the daunting task of tackling misinformation about COVID-19, mostly in local WhatsApp groups. Take a look at their efforts to break down the disinformation in their villages. (Sanket Jain /The edge)
Phones rang, pagers rang, doors opened and closed, IV pumps beeped, fans wobbled, and then there was Karl, with a respectful smile, simply and efficiently moving bodies on a stretcher in metal, then covering them with a black tarpaulin.
– Courtney Martin, chief of maternity services at Loma Linda University Medical Center, writes about Karl, a critical worker during the pandemic. Maria L La Ganga helped tell her story in the Los Angeles Times.
To the people who have received the 2.51 billion doses of vaccine distributed so far, thank you.
To the more than 177,201,586 people around the world who have tested positive, may your journey to recovery be smooth.
To the families and friends of the 3,836,036 people who have died around the world, including 600,880 in the United States, your loved ones are not forgotten.
Stay safe, everyone.