Pandemic 3 years later: has the COVID-19 virus won?

On the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is still spreading and the death toll is approaching 7 million worldwide. But most people have resumed their normal lives thanks to a wall of immunity built up from infections and vaccines.

The virus appears to be here to stay, along with the threat of a more dangerous version sweeping the planet.

“New variants that are appearing everywhere threaten us everywhere,” said virus researcher Thomas Friedrich from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Maybe that will help people understand how connected we are.”

As information sources dry up, it has become more difficult to keep track of the pandemic. Johns Hopkins University on Friday shut down its trusted tracker, which it launched shortly after the virus emerged in China and spread around the world.

Saturday marks three years since the World Health Organization first described the outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, and the United Nations Health Organization says it is not yet ready to say the emergency is over.

A look at our position:


With the pandemic still killing 900 to 1,000 people a day worldwide, the stealthy virus behind COVID-19 has not lost steam. It spreads easily from person to person, riding breath droplets in the air, killing some victims but leaving most without much damage.

“Whatever the virus is doing today, it’s still working to find another avenue for success,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California.

We’re jaded to the daily death toll, says Topol, but we should consider it too high. Consider that in the United States, while daily hospitalizations and deaths are lower than at their worst peaks, they have not yet fallen to the low levels seen in summer 2021 before the delta variant wave.

The virus could change at any time to become more transmissible, better at evading the immune system, or becoming more deadly. Topol said we were not ready for that. Trust in public health authorities has eroded, leading to a brain drain of public health workers. Opposition to lockdowns and vaccination requirements could be the legacy of the pandemic.

“I wish we would unite against the enemy – the virus – instead of each other,” Topol said.


There is another way to look at it. Humans deciphered the genetic code of the virus and quickly came up with vaccines that work remarkably well. We have developed mathematical models to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. We continue to monitor how the virus is changing by looking for it in the sewage.

“The pandemic has really catalyzed some amazing science,” Friedrich said.

The achievements add up to a new normal where COVID-19 “doesn’t need to be at the forefront of people’s minds,” said Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at Emory University. “At least that’s a win.”

dr Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins, said the current Omicron variants have about 100 genetic differences from the original coronavirus strain. This means that about 1% of the viral genome deviates from its starting point. Many of these changes have made it more contagious, but the worst is probably over due to popular immunity.

Matthew Binnicker, a viral infection expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said the world is “in a very different situation today than it was three years ago — where there was essentially no existing immunity to the original virus.”

This extreme vulnerability forced policies aimed at “flattening the curve”. Shops and schools have been closed, weddings and funerals have been postponed. Masks and “social distancing” later gave way to proof of vaccination. Well, such precautions are rare.

“We probably won’t go back to where we were because there’s so much virus that our immune systems can recognize,” Ray said. Our immunity should protect us “from the worst of what we have seen before.”


On Friday, Johns Hopkins finally updated its free coronavirus dashboard and hot-spot map, with the number of deaths worldwide topping 6.8 million. Government sources for real-time numbers had drastically decreased. In the US, only New York, Arkansas and Puerto Rico publish daily case and death figures.

“We rely so much on public data, and it’s just not there,” said Beth Blauer, the project’s data lead.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still collecting a variety of information from states, hospitals and testing labs, including cases, hospitalizations, deaths and which strains of the coronavirus are detected. But for many censuses, less data is now available and it was less up-to-date.

“People have been expecting to get data from us that we can no longer produce,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Internationally, WHO’s tracking of COVID-19 relies on individual country reporting. Global health authorities have expressed concern that their numbers grossly underestimate what is actually happening and they have no true picture of the outbreak.

For more than a year, the CDC has been moving away from case counts and test results, in part due to the increase in home testing that goes unreported. The agency focuses on hospitalizations, which are still reported daily, although that may change. Death notifications continue, although they rely less on daily reports and more on death certificates – which can take days or weeks to arrive.

US officials say they are adjusting to the circumstances and are trying to move to a tracking system similar to how CDC monitors the flu.


“I wish we could go back to pre-COVID,” said Kelly Forrester, 52, of Shakopee, Minnesota, who lost her father to the disease in May 2020, survived her own battle in December, and blames misinformation for ruining a long-lasting friendship . “I hate it. I actually hate it.”

The illness feels random to her. “You don’t know who will survive, who will have COVID for a long time or who will have a mild cold. And then other people, they end up dying in the hospital.”

Forrester’s father, 80-year-old Virgil Michlitsch, a retired meat packer, delivery man and elementary school administrator, died in a nursing home with his wife, daughters and granddaughters, who stood guard in lawn chairs outside the building.

Not being at his bedside “was the hardest part,” Forrester said.

Inspired by the fallout from the pandemic, her 24-year-old daughter is now pursuing a Masters in Public Health.

“My dad would have been really proud of her,” Forrester said. “I’m so glad she believed that she wanted to do this and make things better for people.”


Associated Press writers Laura Ungar and Mike Stobbe contributed. ___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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