- The US has some distance to go before it returns to a normal level of public health, a report said.
- COVID-19 deaths are 10 times higher than the average pre-pandemic respiratory illness, it said.
- Specialists wrote the report, including scientists and former Democratic and Republican officials.
The US’s COVID-19 mortality rates are about 10 times higher than had been recorded during previous outbreaks of a major respiratory disease, experts said, which indicated that the country had some distance to go before it returned to a normal level of public health.
The current number of deaths still exceeds what would typically be expected in a “bad” flu season, said a report by a group of the world’s top scientists, public-health doctors, and policy experts published on Monday. In that scenario, hospitals would fill, worker shortages would emerge, and more than 50,000 Americans would lose their lives in a year.
The group said that to reach “the next normal,” the US should aim for an average mortality of less than 0.5 deaths per million Americans per day, or 165 deaths per day – fewer or the same as in a “bad” season of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus. RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, coldlike symptoms.
“Unfortunately, the United States has yet to arrive at the next normal,” the report said. It added that almost 1 million Americans had died from COVID-19 over the past two years.
“Going into March 2022, the country is currently experiencing about 5 deaths per million people per day from COVID-19. That is about 10-fold higher than was normal for major respiratory diseases prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said .
The group behind the report is tasked with planning a road map of how to return the US to “normal conditions,” which would allow US citizens to live without restrictions such as face masks, isolation, and other public-health measures that were implemented during the pandemic to stem the spread of the virus.
The group – which includes former officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations – said that other metrics, as well as death rates, would help determine whether measures should be imposed or retained in order to return the country to a “normal” footing. Vaccination rates, prior immunity, the amount of virus in wastewater, and health-system stress such as staff shortages would also be considered.
Some signs of a return to normality are starting to emerge, with Americans already ditching their masks under new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new normal could also mean regular vaccine shots to keep future outbreaks of COVID-19 at bay.
Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of the vaccine-maker Moderna, said on February 25 that the pandemic could be over by the end of the year, albeit with annual boosters for those most vulnerable to severe illness.
In “the next normal,” Americans should feel that they have adequate access to healthcare and feel confident to attend work, school, or supermarkets without emergency measures or restrictions, the report said.
As with flu, though, some precautions may still be needed, it cautioned.
“Eliminating Covid is not a realistic goal. Instead, the nation must plan to mitigate its effects, prepare for variants, and build towards a next normal,” the experts said in the report. They added that a new variant was possible within the next 12 months.