MALPRACTICE: Lessons From COVID-19, Which Hasn’t Gone Away

If your workplace is anything like mine, you’ve noticed COVID-19 has not released the country from its gator-jaws. Smack in the middle of our return-to-normal lives, COVID has re-emerged as the “BA.5” variant. You may get it. If you’re vaccinated, that’s not necessarily going to help. If you’re boosted, you might still get it. In fact, you might get it no matter what precautions you take, short of locking yourself in your basement and bleaching your groceries.

The CDC is keeping track of official counts, which have remained steady at just over 100,000 new cases per day. But for once the Washington Post probably has it right.

The size of that wave is unclear because most people are testing at home or not testing at all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past week has reported a little more than 100,000 new cases a day on average. But infectious-disease experts know that wildly underestimates the true number, which may be as many as a million, said Eric Topol, a professor at Scripps Research who closely tracks pandemic trends.

The prevalence of home tests (thank you Joe Biden!) has made COVID tracking and contact tracing really hard for health officials. Employers aren’t required to report people taking sick days because they test positive. Individuals generally aren’t going to report their home test results, even though the kits have an app that allows it. Unless the virus sends someone to the hospital, the government probably won’t know they had it at all.

But we know because we see it. Hardly a week goes by without some well-known figure testing positive. This time it’s Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Half the White House staff has gotten the ‘rona. In April, Speaker Nancy Pelosigot it. And you know what?

It’s no big deal anymore.

People generally aren’t dying at a greater rate than when the pandemic was deemed “over.” Hospitalizations aren’t spiking. People get the coronavirus, feel miserable for a few days, and go back to their lives. Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t wish the execrable disease on anyone, even my worst enemy. I had it before there were vaccines. I had a mild case, and it was awful. I’ve had “long COVID” symptoms for over a year.

But if you’re vaccinated, this variant seems to be less malicious than the original, and in fact as the virus becomes more, uhm, virulent, and resistant to vaccines, it also becomes milder in its effects. This makes sense, since the progression of rapid mutation would remove those variants that can’t get through the vaccines and prior antibodies from previous infections. What we have left is the ones that can, and our bodies, being miracles of self-preservation and immunization, are generally ready to meet them.

COVID is back, and since it’s no longer politically advantageous or possible to create a moral panic, or the “equivalent of war” fighting it, it’s not a big deal. It’s like the flu. People get sick, take a few days to recover, and get back to life. Occasionally someone gets very sick, and for that we do our best to come up with treatments like remdesivir (Veklury) and baricitinib (Olumiant).

What’s more interesting to a cynical mind like mine is that we knew this was coming. We knew it would be like this from the start of the pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 was not a war that any immunology professional ever thought we’d lose. It was an exercise in logistics and messaging. The U.S. saved the world because we can do logistics. We failed at messaging.

We knew there’d be a wave of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19, because we pay people to study and model these things for a living. We pay for careers like Anthony Fauci’s. They were ultra-prepared for the challenge, except we trusted a bunch of administrative state doctor-administrators and grant writers with our messaging, and then the worst person in the history of telling the truth got up at the platform to try to correct them.

Now that we’re here at the end of the line, with vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, only now do we realize our failure and our success. Our success in beating COVID-19 from a pharmaceutical and treatment perspective was basically guaranteed from Day One. It’s our messaging that killed so many that didn’t need to die.

If there’s a lesson to be learned, and we are open to learn it since COVID isn’t a big deal anymore, it’s to put more effort into telling the truth, and stop trying to manipulate. (At least if you’re going to manipulate, hand it over to professionals, like Madison Avenue, or TikTok celebrities. Don’t let doctors malpractice in messaging.)

Lesson learned? Probably not.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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