Officials and media spread complacency as US enters third summer of COVID infections and deaths
Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising rapidly in the United States, belying official optimism and complacent claims that the pandemic is over. The number of cases has more than quadrupled since the low point in mid-March, after the huge spike triggered by the Omicron variant in December and January.
Memorial Day weekend (this year May 28-30) is the traditional start of summer festivals and other mass social activities. At this time last year, coronavirus infection levels in the United States were only one-sixth of those today. And even with that much lower starting point, some 65,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in the summer of 2021.
This summer promises to be much worse, as the starting point is much higher, new variants emerge, and virtually all efforts to limit the spread of the potentially deadly infection have been halted.
Even the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a leading promoter of public complacency, reports that 45% of the US population lives in areas with medium to high levels of community spread. If the CDC hadn’t changed its estimation method earlier this year, that figure would be over 90%.
The Washington Post, in one of the few serious media treatments of the COVID danger this summer, soberly wrote: “Building up immunity following the record-breaking winter outbreak appears to provide little protection against the latest variants, according to new research. And public health authorities are bracing for Memorial Day rallies to fuel another surge in cases, which could seed a summer surge.
The Job continued: “Even the vaccinated and the boosted are now grudgingly accepting the virus as a formidable enemy that is here to stay as governments abandon measures to contain it.”
The prediction that the virus is “here to stay” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was because “governments” abandoned “measures to contain it” that SARS-CoV-2 had the opportunity to spread, mutate and infect hundreds of millions, if not billions, in the world. world.
Tragically, the prediction that “Memorial Day gatherings” would generate a further rise in infections is already on the verge of coming true. Mass gatherings are no longer described as “super-spreader” events, but the change in language does not alter reality.
The Indianapolis 500 car race drew more than 300,000 people on Saturday, more than double the limited attendance from last year. Similar crowds, though slightly smaller, could be found at other sporting events – baseball games, professional basketball and hockey playoffs – and at concerts, launch ceremonies and dozens more. events.
Movie theaters did overwhelming business. The indiscriminate celebration of imperialist militarism and special effects, “Top Gun 2: Maverick,” broke the box office opening weekend record, grossing $156 million over four days.
Air travel ran at full speed throughout the holiday weekend, despite the cancellation of thousands of flights, partly due to extreme weather, but largely due to disruption caused by pandemic diseases among pilots, cabin crew, ground handling agents and air traffic controllers. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), security officers screened half a million more passengers last Thursday than they did a year ago.
Most of the millions of passengers traveling in all directions across the country sat in cramped seats on fully loaded planes, for hours at a time, without wearing masks to provide even minimal protection for themselves and those who shared cramped airplane cabins with them.
It’s all like pouring gasoline on a raging fire, when the pandemic was already in full swing before the bank holiday weekend.
As recorded by the Worldometer site, the seven-day average of the daily number of cases in the United States hit its lowest level for the year, 28,042, on April 2. Since then, the seven-day average has jumped more than 300%, with the figure reaching 127,570 on May 19. Figures since then are incomplete, due to the slowdown in data reporting in the week before the three-day holiday.
The most recent increase is associated with the spread of new, more infectious and immuno-evasive variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the BA.2 subvariant, which became dominant in March and had largely replaced Omicron BA. 1 early April. BA.2 is itself now replaced by the subvariant designated BA.2.12.1, which accounted for around 58% of all new infections in the week ending May 21.
Other new subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, have also been detected, representing an increasing but still small proportion of new infections, around 3%.
All of these numbers are huge undercounts, due to the systematic dismantling of case counting and tracking and the halting of daily reporting by US state health officials to the CDC.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), based at the University of Washington in Seattle, estimated earlier this month that only 13% of new COVID-19 cases were reported to health authorities. This would mean that the actual number of new infections is over 700,000 per day, close to the all-time high of 900,000 daily infections during Omicron’s peak in January.
There are anecdotal local reports that give a glimpse of what’s to come.
Los Angeles County has already reported daily COVID case counts higher than its worst day last summer, during the surge that accompanied the emergence of the Delta variant. On August 9, 2021, 4,248 new cases were recorded in the county. On May 18, the county’s Public Health Department reported 4,384 new cases. Hospitalizations in the county, the most populous in the United States, have doubled in the past two weeks, and the number of ICU patients is also increasing.
Public health officials, however, only responded by urging residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces, without suggesting a return to any form of mandate.
Nationally, the daily number of COVID deaths has yet to surpass levels from a year ago, in large measure, presumably, because more of the population is vaccinated. By the end of May 2021, 53% of US residents had received at least one injection and 46% were fully vaccinated. Today, those figures are 78% and 67% respectively.
However, the vaccination rate has been virtually unchanged since the New Year, with children under five still not having access to vaccines and a minority of adults unable to be vaccinated for health reasons, not wanting it. or not having access to it. Vaccine effectiveness is declining and only 31% received booster shots to boost their resistance to SARS-CoV-2.
The Biden administration has abandoned any pretense that it has a policy to slow, let alone stop, the pandemic. In his most recent comment on the subject, a single sentence in his commencement address Saturday at the University of Delaware, Biden treated the pandemic like history, saying, “A global pandemic has ended a million lives in America alone – a million – and has upended, according to most studies, the lives of… the personal lives of at least 9 million children and family members, and many your lives.
Biden shouted the words “one million,” as if the volume could mask his indifference to the unfolding disaster. This indifference is not a personal trait, but expresses the class vision of the American ruling elite he serves.
Offices, factories and other workplaces must remain open so workers can stay on the job and produce profits for capitalist owners. To enable their parents to work, the children must be educated. Anything that impedes the process of extracting profits must be removed: lockdowns, a zero COVID policy, any effort to save lives rather than increase corporate wealth.
A serious fight against the pandemic requires an alternative class program, based on the international working class. The COVID-19 pandemic, as the WSWS has explained, is a triggering event, a turning point in history that has deeply destabilized class relations and radicalized large sections of workers and youth.
The most far-sighted scientists have made it clear that from a scientific perspective, the elimination of COVID-19 is now more achievable than ever. But the capitalist class is opposed and incapable of such an effort. Only by building an independent mass movement of the working class, armed with a scientific and political understanding of the pandemic, can further suffering and death be averted.