Not only is the COVID-19 pandemic not over, but the spread of the virus continues to be a global public health emergency.
That’s the finding of the World Health Organization, which heard last week the number of coronavirus cases reported went up 30% in the last two weeks as new versions of the omicron variant of the virus sweep across the globe and mitigation measures are being set aside.
“There is a major disconnect in COVID-19 risk perception between scientific communities, political leaders and the general public,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday, The New York Times reported. “COVID-19 is nowhere near over.”
The WHO first declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30, 2020, nearly two months before the agency of the United Nations labeled the outbreak of the virus first seen in China a pandemic.
Data compiled by The New York Times shows that worldwide, new COVID-19 cases have climbed to a daily average of nearly 900,000 as of Wednesday, while the daily average of deaths from the virus is at 1,685, a 12% increase over the past 14 days.
The omicron subvariant known as BA.5, behind Europe’s status as the hot spot internationally for the virus, is now the dominant strain in the United States, including in Utah. BA.5 is considered much more highly transmissible than the original omicron, able to evade immunity from vaccinations and even recent infections.
Despite the ongoing spread of the virus, testing and other tracking measures have largely eased. In Utah, most COVID-19 testing was turned over to private providers under Gov. Spencer Cox’s plan to treat the virus like the flu or other endemic disease that took effect at the end of March.
Less testing also means fewer positive samples to use for genome sequencing, the way new variants are monitored. And the results of home tests, which many increasingly rely on to determine if they’ve caught COVID-19, are not reported to public health authorities in countries including the United States.
“The virus is running freely and countries are not effectively managing the disease burden based on their capacity, in terms of both hospitalization for acute cases and the expanding number of people with post-COVID-19 condition — often referred to as long COVID,” Tedros said at a news conference in Geneva.
He said “surveillance has reduced significantly — including testing and sequencing — making it increasingly difficult to assess the impact of variants on transmission, disease characteristics and the effectiveness of countermeasures.”
The White House weighed in Tuesday, making it clear that the pandemic has not ended but there are measures Americans can take to protect themselves and those around them, chiefly getting vaccinated and boosted against the virus. The shots are still seen as preventing severe disease that leads to hospitalization and death.
“We are at a point in the pandemic where most COVID-19 deaths are preventable. Our strategy to manage BA.5 relies on making sure Americans continue to have easy and convenient access to these tools,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said during a virtual news conference.
The president’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the nation’s “best defense” is keeping the virus from spreading as much as possible to reduce the chance of further mutations and possibly, brand-new variants that could cause more severe disease than seen with omicron.
“Variants will continue to emerge if the virus circulates globally and in this country. We should not let it disrupt our lives. But we cannot deny that it is a reality that we need to deal with,” said Fauci, who recently suffered a bout of COVID-19.