Is the Pandemic ‘Over’? Biden Says So, But Scientists Say That’s Up for Debate

In a surprising moment in a “60 Minutes” interview, President Joe Biden said the COVID-19 pandemic was “over.” While he rightly acknowledged that the coronavirus was still a problem, epidemiologists say there is no single definition of what constitutes the end of a pandemic – and some say we’re not there yet.

In the United States, around 400 people died every day from COVID-19 in the first half of September. according to on statistics reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden made his remarks at the Detroit Auto Show in response to CBS’ Scott Pelley asking if the pandemic was over after noting that the auto show was being held for the first time in three years.

“The pandemic is over,” Biden said in the interviewwhich aired on September 18. “We still have a problem with COVID, we still work a lot on it, but the pandemic is over.”

“If you notice nobody is wearing masks, everyone seems to be in pretty good shape,” Biden said continued, as the two walked through the convention center. “And I think it’s changing. And I think this is a perfect example of that.”

Epidemiologists agree that the pandemic isn’t as bad as it used to be, with access to life-saving vaccines, improved treatments and a population that, for the most part, has already been infected at least once. But the death toll, while lower than before, is still relatively high – and it’s unclear what the future will hold.

Biden had reportedly not planned such a statement Washington Post and Politically. As recently as last month, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced relaxed COVID-19 guidelines, the agency specifically said that the pandemic was not over yet.

The head of the World Health Organization had just said the same thing days before.

“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. said in a press conference on September 14.

The day after Biden’s interview aired, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra insisted the president was correct in saying the pandemic was over.

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“The President is right,” Becerra said said Yahoo Finance said Biden “reflects what so many Americans are thinking and feeling.” He added that vaccines, tests and treatments had changed the game, but that the President had been clear Americans were still dying from COVID-19 and the virus was still with us.

On one level, the pandemic is still ongoing: while the World Health Organization is not the same as a “pandemic.” continues To consider COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, and the US also classifies it as one Public Health Emergency.

The White House did not respond to our request for comment. but Officer have said Biden’s statement does not mark a change in national COVID-19 policy, and the government had no plans to lift the public health emergency. The state of emergency is set to expire on October 13 unless renewed (as before). nine times since January 2020), although HHS Has said it will be announced 60 days in advance before it ends.

While determining the “end” of a pandemic may seem like a simple prospect, epidemiologists say it’s not that simple.

“There is no standard definition out there” Bill Hanage, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, informed us in an email. “Previous pandemics are ‘ended’ when people no longer count the fluctuations in cases large enough to be called that. But, for example, after the three waves normally thought to make up the influenza pandemic that began in 1918-19, there continued to be flare-ups.”

One way to define the ending, Hanage said, might be when there’s no more excessive mortality. But that can get complicated, he said, because mortality shifts, such as when people who would normally have been expected to die died now in the last year. Mortality can also be affected by the quality of healthcare and be higher than expected if the pandemic has damaged the healthcare system.

Jennifer Nuzzoan epidemiologist and director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health said that the pandemic will end for them when COVID-19 no longer has the “capacity to disrupt our lives.”

“I’m not sure there is a meaningful definition of ‘pandemic’ that would provide a clear point in time for when the COVID-19 pandemic would be ‘over’.” David Dowdyan epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told us in an email, adding that he didn’t think there was a consensus on the issue because there was no consensus on a definition.

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Still, he said he felt it was premature to say the pandemic was over.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re in a new phase of COVID-19 where hospitalizations and deaths have been consistently low for the past five months. But there is still some uncertainty about what will happen next winter, and all-cause mortality is still well above pre-pandemic levels. The number of people dying from COVID-19 in the US is similar to the number dying from flu in the middle of flu season — but that’s happening in mid-September,” he said. “While I think it’s important to signal to people that we’ve really been in a different phase of COVID-19 since around April, I’m not sure if anything has happened in the last month or two that has us would make you think that the pandemic is over now. If it were me, I’d happily wait until we get through the winter before making that call.”

The CDC graph of daily COVID-19 deaths from January 2020 to September 18, 2022.

Several Experts | written down to the press that they did not believe the pandemic was over, with some even going so far as to say so Biden was wrong. But some also thought the terms had changed enough for the president to agree.

“We have a new disease, a new health risk. This is COVID It’s unpredictable. It kills people. And yes, we need to do a lot more to control it and a lot more to take care of people,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former director of the CDC, said NPR. “But the pandemic as a phenomenon that ruled our lives for two years – that’s over.”

It’s worth noting that legally there is no real answer as to when a pandemic will end, either.

“There is no formal process under international law or governance to declare a pandemic over.” Alexandra Phelana public health and international law expert at Georgetown University, explained on twitter. “For influenza, the post-pandemic phase is defined by a return to seasonal levels,” she continued, citing the WHO Guideline on the flu pandemic, “but we don’t know (1) if that will be the case with COVID19 (although likely) and (2) what those levels will be.”

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But in applying these guidelines to COVID-19, it seemed clear to Phelan that the world was in a “post-peak” rather than a “post-pandemic” phase. “With the ongoing transmission of COVID19 and the emergence of new variants, we are clearly not in the ‘pandemic is over’ phase,” she said wrote.

The WHO doesn’t officially declare the end of a pandemic, Phelan said STAT, but the organization will eventually decide to end the public health emergency of international concern for COVID-19. that will change Reporting rules for outbreaks and various programs related to pandemics and are having financial implications as drug manufacturers no longer allow their treatments to be manufactured as generics for mainly low- and middle-income countries. Harvard epidemiologist Caroline Buckee said Science that the decision to end the PHEIC will not only be based on a scientific threshold, but on an “opinion-based consensus” that also includes social and political factors.

As we wrote before, Scientists have long known that the coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, will not go away entirely — and will remain an ongoing problem for a long time to come. And that’s true regardless of whether people call it a pandemic.

“We can debate when the pandemic phase will be over, but we know COVID-19 is not over yet,” Dowdy said.

The coronavirus, Hanage said, “never went away, and people will inevitably continue to die, albeit in decreasing numbers.” Rather than dwell on the semantics, the “actual question should be what kind of numbers do we think are acceptable and how we can work to reduce them further.”

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/vaccination project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Foundation has no control over’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the Foundation’s views. The project aims to increase access to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines while reducing the impact of misinformation.

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