Experts call on Biden administration to change pandemic plan

rapid tests
rapid tests

World Bank /Henitsoa Rafalia/Flickr cc

Today, notable members of the Biden administration's COVID-19 pandemic transition team called on the president to shift his approach to the virus, accepting that it will be endemic and that new variants could emerge and arguing that the country needs a new strategy for living with the virus 2 years after it was first identified in Wuhan, China.

In one of three articles published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania; Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, who directs the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), publisher of CIDRAP News; and Celine Gounder, MD, of New York University, argue that a new normal must be based on understanding COVID-19 as a respiratory illness, similar to influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Doing so would help the country develop an appropriate risk threshold that would establish peak weekly deaths, hospitalizations, and community prevalence of viral respiratory illnesses during high-severity years.

"This risk threshold triggers policy recommendations for emergency implementation of mitigation and other measures. In addition, health systems could rely on this threshold for planning on the bed and workforce capacity they need normally, and when to institute surge measures," the authors write.

In an interview with CIDRAP News, Osterholm said members of the Biden transition team were having these discussions before the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant emerged. The federal government has been acting in emergency mode, they said, and needs to start thinking of the pandemic with long-term goals in mind.

"What's the end game? With the variants, we are never sure what the end game is going to be," Osterholm said in the interview. "This is not a critique of the current administration, as much as an opportunity to plan."

Vaccine mandates, home testing, needed

In the same article, experts tout the important of accurate, free, and reliable at-home testing. Widespread access to N95 or KN95 respirators is also argued for, as is better air filtration systems in schools and congregate buildings.

Vaccine mandates are also touted, with the authors noting that a 90% vaccine coverage will not be reached without mandates, including mandates for schoolchildren.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker shows that 62.3% of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 73.9% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 34.9% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster shot.

New record of kids hospitalized for COVID-19

At least 4,000 US children are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 infections, the highest number of the pandemic, according to the Washington Post. On Christmas, that number was half of that, at 2,000.

The spike reflects the overall surge of virus activity due to the Omicron variant. The country reported 643,660 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 1,986 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker.

As more and more Americans get sick, many with mild or asymptomatic cases, the president of the American Medical Association said in a statement yesterday that the CDC's new recommendations on isolation and quarantine are confusing and risk further spread of the virus.

"A negative test should be required for ending isolation after one tests positive for COVID-19. Reemerging without knowing one's status unnecessarily risks further transmission of the virus," said Gerald Harmon, MD. The CDC has said a negative test is not needed to end postinfection isolation.

Other US developments

  • Chicago school leaders canceled classes for a second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning, the Associated Press reports.

  • The Transportation Security Administration reported 3,037 current COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, a 16% increase over the last 2 days, according to ABC News.

  • The Grammy Awards, scheduled for Jan 31, have been postponed due to the surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant, CBS News reports.

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