Year 2, Week 50: Where’s the Pandemic?

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022

Answer: Everywhere. That’s what “pan-” means. Think of panorama, panacea, pandemonium. COVID-19, our newest pandemic, is still everywhere. The number of countries where COVID cases are increasing, however, is less than twenty, as shown in various shades of orange on the map. The countries with the fastest rate of increase as of Feb. 26, 2022, include: China, South Korea, Cambodia, New Zealand, Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo.

Note: These are not the countries with the MOST cases. Just the ones with the most increase right now. The profile changes all the time. Ukraine is just now coming off of its highest surge.

Can we get a new rapid-spreading variant? Absolutely. And there’s no guarantee that it will be benign. (See the STAT article referred to in last week’s post). It might not come from a far-away country. What about the United States?

United States hot spots, Feb. 27, 2022

In this map, the dark orange areas are the counties with the most cases per 100,000 residents. Although almost every state is trending downward (Maine went up 1% today), it’s the counties that really make the difference. The counties that have the fastest rate of increase right now are in Virginia, Alaska, and Maine. But, as you can see from the map above, there are hot spots all over the country.

However, we do seem to be in a lull right now. With life getting back to normal in most of the U.S., it seems like a good time for CDC to change the rules. Relying on case counts to determine safety measures doesn’t make much sense at a time when cases (Omicron being our current variant) are mainly mild and more people are testing themselves at home, so many cases don’t even get into the official count. The new metrics look at cases, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity, which makes sense if the goal is to avoid overloading the hospitals. These counts are used to sort counties into low, medium, or high risk. To see how this looks today, see the map below.

Wearing masks indoors is recommended for high-risk areas, which include about 28% of the population. Since these are guidelines, the rules may not change in your location. States and counties are allowed to make their own rules, which may be stricter (think Los Angeles County) or more lenient (think Florida). The CDC guidelines do not affect federal regulations such as masking in airports, on airplanes, or on public transportation. The transportation mask mandate expires March 18, but it may be extended.

The new CDC guidelines probably won’t affect your everyday behavior in seeing your friends and family. Hopefully, you’ve been working that out all along. Where we probably will see a difference is in public spaces–like stores, offices, stadiums, libraries, theaters, schools, and restaurants–places that refer to the CDC guidelines to help them decide on appropriate safety measures for their area. Of course, they will be constrained by local regulations as well.

I’ve never considered terms like “new normal,” “endemic,” and the dreaded “herd immunity” to be useful concepts in shaping our expectations for this pandemic. We are not going to settle into a dependable steady state. What we need is flexibility. Because in a world that just went from locked-down Olympics in hazmat suits to thousands of refugees fleeing a war zone, our pandemic situation can change very fast.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“CDC: Many healthy Americans can take a break from masks,” AP, Feb. 25, 2022.

“CDC says Americans can now go unmasked in many parts of the country,” NPR, Feb. 25, 2022.

“What the CDC’s revamped covid guidance means for travel,” The Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2022.

“Ukraine, already contending with Covid and polio, faces mounting health threats,” NBC News, Feb. 26, 2022.

Other Sources

“Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases,” Our World in Data, updated daily.

“Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count,” The New York Times, updated Feb 27, 2022.

“COVID-19 by County,” CDC, updated Feb. 25, 2022.

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience both in the media and in everyday life, drawing on my experience as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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