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600K COVID Deaths — What Is Yet to Come?

It is a long way from being over.

The United States reached an improbable number of coronavirus deaths over the weekend — 600,000! If someone had said to expect 600,000 deaths in the United States when the pandemic started, our response to the pandemic would have been evaluated as an abject failure. But, here we are today and it isn’t over yet. There are no longer thousands of people dying daily, but we still have hundreds being added to the death toll each and every day.

See below for an essay I wrote about what we can still expect to see in the future:

Disaster Zone: What’s Next for the Pandemic

Everyone is waiting for the COVID-19 pandemic to be declared as being over. You will note that no one is even talking about that end goal at this point—yet, I expect that we are about to see people acting like it is over in the coming months. In the following sections of this blog post we’ll explore the current status and what “might happen” in the coming months.

Vaccines and Vaccinations

Vaccines their rapid development and deployment can be credited with our current falling case rate, hospitalizations and death count. There are three vaccines approved for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). More will likely be added in the coming months of 2021.

Almost 70% of all adults have had at least one dose of vaccine. Over 80% of seniors are vaccinated. 30% of the United States population are vaccinated. The next step will be full FDA authorization of vaccines for use on minor children. Pfizer and Moderna are at this writing appear ready to ask for that authorization. Formal and full authorization of vaccines beyond the current emergency use authorization will allow for other actions discussed below for businesses, schools and universities.

Going back to the Office

For many white collar jobs people have been working from home for almost 15 months. There are those who are itching to get back to the office and then there are those who have adapted to the new work-from-home style and environment.

Companies are trying to figure out the timing for expecting people to return to a physical place of work. But then, there are other companies and governments who have sold buildings and emptied out their contents, informing their workers that they will be working from home permanently going forward.

There is a middle ground being called hybrid that has people returning to work in an office environment a few days a week and splitting their time between home and the office [At the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) where I work people are going to be in the office two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday]. Expect a bunch of experimentation over what is the right balance between having people be in the office and then also working from home. Certainly in the hiring process of the future there will be an expectation in job announcements that the “place of work” will have to be specified in a manner never before experienced.

Lastly, the timing and speed for implementing changes to be made are being figured out by organizations right now. I’ve heard everything from July to September and beyond. One of the topics being sorted out now is the ability of companies to require their staff to be vaccinated. At least one company I know of will not cross that line until the vaccines get the full approval from the FDA and move beyond the current emergency authorization.

Facemasks and Social Distancing

In my opinion the issue of when and where of wearing masks will be one of the more problematic tasks ahead of us. There will be Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance and there will be organizational, political, and individual interpretations of what is perceived to be safe or necessary.

Today it is being deemed to be safe to not wear a mask in an outdoor environment if you are vaccinated. How that all plays out during the summer baseball and coming fall football seasons will be interesting to watch. The one thing I feel certain about is that people using public transportation will be the last place that where people will give up wearing a mask. It may even be a major cultural shift that extends way beyond this pandemic.

School in the fall

For parents everywhere, I feel an anticipated sigh of relief for the 2021-2022 school year that kids of all ages will “likely” all be back in school. The next step in the deployment of vaccines is finishing the studies and getting approval for them as being safe for all ages of children. It is not certain that the approval will be forthcoming before it is time for the next school year to begin in the fall.

When it happens, then school districts will need to make the decision on whether to make vaccination a requirement for their students to physically return to school. I expect that may become a battle royale in many jurisdictions. Colleges and Universities will also have to make the call about vaccinations as it relates to attendance to their institutions.

Coronavirus Variants

As I have read in several publications the only goal of the virus is to remain alive and to propagate. What allows it to spread more effectively is its ability to mutate and form more new and different variants. The number of these variants has become associated with nation states and more accurately with scientific variant nomenclature. From the CDC there is this:

SARS-CoV-2 variants:

· The B.1.526, B.1.526.1, B.1.525, B.1.617, B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, B.1.617.3, and P.2 variants circulating in the United States are classified as variants of interest.

· The B.1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, B.1.427, and B.1.429 variants circulating in the United States are classified as variants of concern.

· To date, no variants of high consequence have been identified in the United States.

· In laboratory studies, specific monoclonal antibody treatments may be less effective for treating cases of COVID-19 caused by variants with the L452R or E484K substitution in the spike protein.

  • L452R is present in B.1.526.1, B.1.427, and B.1.429.
  • E484K is present in B.1.525, P.2, P.1, and B.1.351, but only some strains of B.1.526 and B.1.1.7.

I expect the above is more than you wanted to know, but this is where the future “ground game” is going to be played. Science and the medical community can only be reactive to new variants by modifying the vaccines to account for the mutations as they occur.

International Impacts

This is the wildcard for the pandemic. Recently, my daughter asked me, “Will we still be dealing with pandemic issues this time next year?” My answer, “Yes in some form or fashion.” As noted above the future will be determined by how the virus mutates.

As we say with the pandemic situation in India and Brazil and the uncontrolled spread of the virus provides the fertile ground for the coronavirus to continue to mutate. There is no wall, immigration rules or travel restrictions that will prevent a future virus mutation from entering the United States. Thus, it is in our best interest as a nation to help the all the world’s nations to make a maximum effort to vaccinate their citizens. The recent pledge by the G7 nations to provide a billion vaccine doses to the developing world is a good start.

The pandemic will not be over here until it is over everywhere!

Eric Holdeman is a nationally known emergency manager. He has worked in emergency management at the federal, state and local government levels. Today he serves as the Director, Center for Regional Disaster Resilience (CRDR), which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER). The focus for his work there is engaging the public and private sectors to work collaboratively on issues of common interest, regionally and cross jurisdictionally.
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