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You Need To Be Flexible on Tactics and Even Mask Up Again If Necessary
Many people are again commuting to work, children have returned to their schools, and my head is throbbing from a head cold as I sit surrounded by Kleenex and cough drops, infected by a bug that does not cause COVID-19. This looks like a typical fall day before the pandemic. So, is the pandemic over?
Well, not exactly. The “scramble-around-with-your-head-cut-off” phase has passed. But now we must figure out how to live and work with COVID-19, another respiratory bug that hangs out with other microbes on the playground and in large public gatherings.
What happens now are the many things that occur behind the scenes for the average American, like deciding who will pay for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. The baton gets passed from the emergency systems to the routine health systems.
So instead of the federal government paying for your COVID-19 booster, your employer-sponsored health insurance or public insurance will.
First, the COVID-19 global death toll remains very high – about 10,000 per week in late September. The bug is still spreading widely around the world and can spawn dangerous progeny, which prevents us from declaring an end to the COVID-19 emergency.
Second, we are lucky we have so many safe and effective vaccines on every street corner, housed under the same roof as the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at your local pharmacy. Get vaccinated if you have not. We saw surges in cases the past two winters and we may see something like that again.
Third, as businesses think about how to prosper in a post-pandemic environment, what has become apparent is that many people can be effective working remotely. Flexibility and a hybrid model of in-person and remote work may be the key to balancing the bug and the economy with the bonus of enhancing the happiness of employees.
While President Biden announced the pandemic as “over,” it seems only partly true. It’s a matter of semantics. We have passed the mad scramble period, but there are still about 400 COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. The implications of long COVID could cost the economy trillions, and more immediate to many is the haze in decision-making about planning ahead – travel on a plane, but not on a bus; go to an outdoor concert, but not an indoor one; watch “Maverick” in the movie theater, or on-demand at home. For that last one, we gave up the theater’s mind-blowing Dolby surround sound of a Mach 10 flight for the pretty decent Bose system at home. These are the choices I have made in my life.
As you resume your activities and choose your priorities – attending an in-person family reunion versus Zoom, wedding versus funeral – know that everyone’s choices will be different. It will take time to recover from living through three years of a devastating pandemic. So, be mindful that people are in flux and may be at a different point from you. Like my husband who is in physical therapy for a shoulder replacement. His recovery will be long and difficult, but the golf course is in sight.
Angela K. Shen, ScD, MPH, a retired Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, is a Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. She is also a Visiting Scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Visiting Scientist, Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
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