The pandemic may not end anytime soon, but these tools can help stem its impact

The number of new COVID-19 infections in the United States is rising once again despite booster shot rollouts, a new vaccine for children and a promising pill that can reduce hospitalizations and deaths. Experts disagree on whether we can expect an end to the pandemic in the months to come. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The COVID-19 pandemic still is exerting its grip, despite booster shot rollouts, a new vaccine for children, and a promising pill that can reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

    The number of cases has started to climb again, and experts disagree on whether we can expect an end to the pandemic in the months to come.

    Amna Nawaz looks at the state of things.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the virus is gaining more of a foothold in the United States again. The country is averaging over 1, 200 deaths daily, with more than 75,000 new cases reported each day. That is up an average of 7 percent from just two weeks ago.

    Some regions surpass others. Several states in New England, out West, and Alaska have experienced a significant surge.

    Joining me today is Andy Slavitt, former adviser to the Biden administration COVID's response who, in a recent Twitter thread, laid out how the pandemic is very much still here, and we don't yet know for how long.

    Andy Slavitt, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thanks for making the time.

    That Twitter thread was incredibly sobering. You said you wrote it because you heard too many smart people saying the pandemic is over.

    Why do you think they're saying that? Why do they believe that?

  • Andy Slavitt, Former Senior White House Adviser For COVID Response:

    Well, look, I think parts of all of us would like to believe the pandemic is over.

    And I think, each time we see a lull in cases, it's easy to lull ourselves into the sense that this is indeed over. I think we have to look at a couple of things here in this country that just make us have to — there's a couple of things in this country we just have to make sure we're paying attention to.

    One is, we haven't nearly vaccinated enough people. In Europe right now, even in countries that have close to 80 percent of the population vaccinated, they're still seeing outbreaks. We can expect to see that to happen here as well.

    And we have much of the world that's still not vaccinated, which means we're — until we're all in a position where we're confident there aren't going to be more variants, we all need to be worried.

    So, I'd love to say that this is over yet, but I think, as many of us would, we're not there yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For anyone who missed it, this is just part of your Twitter thread.

    You said: "To be clear, when cases dip, it's not over. When boosters come, it's not over. When kids are vaccinated, it's not over. When therapies are approved, it's not over."

    Andy, is there any measurable moment ahead when you think we can say it's over, this elusive idea of herd immunity, or something else?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Well, I want to make two points.

    First of all, just because it's not over doesn't mean that we aren't entering a stage where we can't get on to many of the things in life that we did before the pandemic, and do them safely. We are now entering what I would call the tools era. We have lots and lots and lots of tools, from vaccines to masks to instant tests.

    So these tools — and we're soon to have more tools with more medications — they allow us to do many things safely. But we have to keep in mind that, even while we're doing things more safely, there's still about an average of 450,000 people dying per year at the current rate. And if we don't take advantage of these tools, we're all potentially vulnerable.

    So I think it's important to know that we can manage our way through this. And when we get to a point where we are quite confident that we can predict what's going to happen with the virus, then we will be at a place where we will be talking about moving on to something that's more endemic.

    But we're not there yet because we still have waves happening all over the world, including, unfortunately, here in the U.S.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Which brings me to my next question, actually, because there are these pockets across the United States, counties and other local areas, where there are very low vaccination rates, sometimes right next to other counties with very high vaccination rates.

    But we're seeing, even, in example, for Colorado, those pockets are enough to surge — cause surges in the hospitals and lead to more deaths and really stretch resources on the ground. Are those pockets that we see, are those prolonging the pandemic?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Well, they are.

    We have tens of millions of people who are unvaccinated. And, as you say, many of them live in kind of clustered areas. And those areas are most at risk. And many of those areas, unfortunately, do have nursing shortages and other situations.

    But even in places like California, where — San Francisco, where you got 80 percent-plus of people vaccinated, that remaining 20 percent of people are enough to drive case count increases. In California, in the last few weeks, we have seen a tripling of cases. We're still at a low point.

    But, again, there are enough people all over the country that are susceptible to Delta. Remember, Delta spreads much, much, much faster and much, much, much easier than prior incarnations of COVID. If we didn't have Delta, it would be a different picture. But, unfortunately, that's not where we are.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Andy, you mentioned the many tools in the toolkit right now.

    I'm curious, especially with the holidays ahead, people gathering, people expecting maybe another surge, is there anything the U.S. could be doing right now that it's not?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Well, I really applaud the efforts of the administration to make more low-cost, at-home tests available.

    And I think, if you're going to try to gather for the holidays, if you're going to travel, taking a test, paying attention to the results is an important tool. We have to, as a country, open up and get back to work, get back to business, get back to life, get back to school.

    But if we use things like these tests, and soon to be these therapies that are that are going to come out, we're going to be able to do the things in life that we value so much.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What would you tell Americans out there who have heard the pandemic might be over in a few months, spring, things will turn around, maybe in the next year, mentally preparing and coping for that moment?

    How should they be processing this and setting expectations for what's ahead?

  • Andy Slavitt:

    You know, my advice is — and it may seem a little bit counterintuitive — is don't delay life.

    I mean, we have a lot of things we can do during the course of this pandemic. You can go safely to sports events. You can travel. You can see family. You can dine. And you can go to school, all these things, as long as we take precautions.

    And these precautions are, I think, quite modest to allow us to do these things. We need to be aware that there are people that are very unsafe right now. But it shouldn't be one of those feelings we have had for the last year-and-a-half, where it just terrifies us or it freezes us in place and doesn't allow us to move on.

    We can do those things at the same time. And then, one day, we will look back, and we will say, wow, the pandemic has really died down. We're now into a much more steady state basis. And when we get there, that would be great, but, in the meantime, let's just keep going, is my advice.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Andy Slavitt, former senior adviser to the Biden administration's COVID response.

    Andy, thanks for your time. Always good to have you on.

  • Andy Slavitt:

    Thank you.

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