As Omicron-related infections and hospitalizations continue to trend downward in the United States, the Biden administration and senior health officials are now trying to reassure pandemic-weary Americans that there will indeed come a time when Covid-19 won’t dominate all aspects of people’s lives.
In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that the United States is heading out of the “full-blown pandemic phase” of the virus.
“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated,” Fauci said.
“There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus,” he continued.
Jeff Zients, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, said during a news conference last week that “the president has been clear that we’re moving toward a time when COVID won’t disrupt our daily lives, a time when COVID won’t be a constant crisis so we’re no longer fearing lockdowns and shutdowns, but getting back to safely doing what we all love.”
There is indeed growing hope that between vaccination and mass exposure to Omicron, there will be enough immunity in the general population that the number of people becoming severely ill from the virus will be markedly reduced.
“When COVID first emerged in December 2019, people’s immune systems weren’t trained to combat the virus, which is why the pandemic has been so devastating. The elderly in particular weren’t able to mount an adequate defense, leaving them more susceptible to severe disease and death than other age groups,” CNBC reported.
“As immunity in the broader community increases over time through vaccination and infection, new generations of children will likely become the primary group left that hasn’t been exposed,” it continued, citing information from Jennie Lavine, a computational investigational biologist at biotech company Karius.
Mental Health Damage Already Done
However, even if the virus eventually becomes endemic and life generally goes back to normal, some experts are now contending that mental health damage from the virus could last an entire generation.
One particular study that was published in The Lancet medical journal in October found that mental health across more than 200 countries dramatically declined with an estimated 53 million additional cases of major depressive disorders and 76 million additional cases of anxiety disorders.
“There’s definitely a huge mental health impact from a long period of uncertainty and change that’s left people very isolated and not sure how to connect,” Valentine Raiteri, a psychiatrist working in New York, told CNBC.
“Just being out in public and interacting in a very casual way with strangers or mild acquaintances, that’s very regulating, and norm-creating and reality affirming,” he added.
Without that, Raiteri noted, “our internal voices become stronger and it becomes harder and harder to self regulate,” which created a “big pressure cooker, especially for people who already have a vulnerability.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.