Will US overcome COVID complacency as threat returns | New

A few months ago, it looked like the country was on the verge of finally taming the pandemic, after two years of restrictions and tens of billions in public spending. The Biden administration released the first national COVID-19 preparedness plan in March to help Americans safely “get back to normal,” a strategy for living with the continued presence of the virus and the emergence of new variants. .

In response, elected officials and much of the country essentially sighed, seemingly preferring to move on and give up the fight. Congress has not approved more spending for free tests, treatments and vaccines. Local governments have lifted mandates and many people have stopped wearing masks, even in crowded indoor spaces. Two-thirds of those who waited in line for hours to receive their first shots seem less willing to walk into a pharmacy for a free booster, making them more susceptible to omicron variants.

The pandemic response has become soft and performative, backed by neither money, nor urgency, nor law enforcement.

Although the Biden administration has requested an additional $22.5 billion in COVID funding — warning of 100 million possible infections and a surge in deaths this fall — the Senate considered providing less than half that amount . Even that amount is blocked because lawmakers have tied it to immigration issues. Without these funds, the government cannot maintain the programs that have effectively flattened the curve of the pandemic so far; it cannot, for example, buy vaccines so that all Americans can be vaccinated for free and may need to ration future vaccines.

Tired of the police, many, if not most, stores and workplaces have dropped their mask mandates, even during local COVID surges. Where they are in place, they are often poorly applied.

Similarly, campaigns urging people to get vaccinated have largely declined with regard to boosters, even though many scientists argue that the “booster” is not really an adjunct but an essential part of protection. Vaccinations against other diseases require three or more injections to complete a full course. yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not updated the definition of “fully vaccinated” for air travel in the United States and only “recommends” a booster. Many states define COVID vaccination as having received two shots, not three.

Already, the record of this collective complacency is clear: in January and February, people who had been “fully vaccinated” accounted for more than 40% of COVID deaths – more than two-thirds of them had not received a third vaccine. One million Americans have died from COVID-19; new variant doubles case rates in some states; and more than 300 people die every day.

Here’s the problem: public health needs — but doesn’t have — a good narrative. It’s because if public health officials are respected, well-funded, and allowed to do their job, here’s the bottom line: nothing happens. Epidemics do not lead to pandemics. Patients quit smoking, eat healthier and lose weight. People wear their masks and get vaccinated. The tests are free, convenient and widely available.

But without a good narrative, public health infrastructure gets little attention from politicians and voters — unless a pandemic is raging. It is ignored and lawmakers can defund it as soon as a crisis appears to be easing.

Public health is fought without drama or good visuals and by ordinary people in lab coats or, more likely, street clothes, going door to door for things like vaccine distribution and contact tracing.

There are, of course, structural issues that have hampered the pandemic response of our key public health institutions like the CDC and FDA. Their pace is slow, their technology outdated, they were undermined and scorned by former President Donald Trump and, perhaps most importantly, command lines to local public health departments have been weak or non-existent.

After 9/11, many states, counties, and cities — to save money or redirect it to counterterrorism efforts — canceled and gutted public health departments to the point of extinction. Since the 2008 recession, at least 38,000 state and local public health jobs have been cut, according to an analysis by KHN and Associated Press. That’s part of why states and cities have yet to spend much of the $2.25 billion allocated in March 2021 by the Biden administration to help reduce COVID disparities. There are now too few public health officials on the ground who know how to spend it.

We see the value of lifeboats, even though we hope ocean liners will never sink. We gladly fund fire inspections, although we hope that our homes will never be threatened by fire. Why shouldn’t we apply the same thinking to our investment in the local health service?

Two years ago, before the vaccine, images of dying people on ventilators saying goodbye over iPads, doctors in hazmat suits and portable morgues in hospital parking lots briefly engaged everyone in need of public health resources, and Congress has stepped up.

Now, with mass shootings, the war in Ukraine and economic challenges like inflation dominating attention, the public has moved on. But the threat has not gone away. and there will be a price to pay in unnecessary illness, death and disruption if the nation does not maintain the actions necessary to contain the inevitable waves of COVID to come.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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