January 3, 2023
Welcome to the fifteenth year of History’s Edge! When I started this blog in 2008, I planned to chronicle my progress through graduate school as I worked on my Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Irvine. It didn’t take me long to realize that a doctoral student doesn’t have time for extracurricular writing, but History’s Edge continued sporadically until March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared that the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus constituted a pandemic. With my interest in medicine and history, I focused on how this changed our lives, writing daily for about 6 months and then weekly.
Is it over? Technically, no. A “pandemic” declaration is an administrative tool that enables an emergency response to a public health threat. The World Health Organization may declare the COVID public health emergency over in 2023. Emergency declarations in individual countries or states have their own timetable. Governor Newsom of California recently announced that the COVID-19 state of emergency ends on Feb. 28, 2023. Florida’s state of emergency ended on June 26, 2021. The Biden administration promised to give 60 days notice before ending the public health emergency in America. So far, this announcement has not been made.
But the pandemic has an unofficial meaning as well. We often see articles using phrases like, “during the pandemic,” “since the pandemic,” or “after the pandemic,” and we share a common feeling for what these mean. School is back in session and people are meeting in person now. In many places, masks are optional and usage is in the minority. I took the grandchildren to Medieval Times and Legoland over the Christmas vacation and both were full of people. I’m not complaining. I was there too.
Christmas shoppers at the mall weren’t as numerous as they were a decade ago, but are certainly more plentiful than we saw in the last two years. Signs for mask and distance precautions are more often “recommendations” than requirements as they were two years ago. So, yes you can click your ruby slippers and return to 2019 if you want to, but whether you call it a pandemic or not, COVID is here to stay.
The two issues dominating the COVID news this week are China and the increase of the XBB variant in the U.S.
China has abruptly relaxed its harsh no-COVID policy, and reports are that cases are rising rapidly, although only 22 COVID deaths have been reported since December (Aljazeera). The WHO reports that China is under-representing the death rate and has asked China to provide accurate data. In other countries COVID-19 largely affects people who have not yet had the disease. Both Australia and Singapore report that only 20% of current cases are reinfections. China has a large population of people with no prior infection and no vaccinations, and there is concern that current fast-spreading infections may lead to the spread of new variants.
The new variant spreading rapidly in the United States today is XBB.1.5. This very-contagious virus has increased from 4% of the cases in the U.S. to over 40% this week. It has spread throughout the Northeast and is working its way south and west. As with each new dominant variant, it is more contagious than the preceding ones, and experts are still figuring out whether it is more resistant to vaccines than previous variants. I’ll be keeping an eye on XBB.1.5 as it hits the headlines, as well as other news about COVID throughout the world.
Happy New Year, everybody, and good health to all!
Today’s Notable Headlines
“WHO eyes end to Covid emergency in 2023,” France 24, Dec. 15, 2022. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20221214-who-eyes-end-to-covid-emergency-in-2023
“Potential China wave is ‘wild card’ for ending COVID emergency – WHO advisors,” Reuters, Dec. 20, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/potential-china-wave-is-wild-card-ending-covid-emergency-who-advisors-2022-12-20/
“China ‘under-representing’ severity of COVID outbreak, says WHO,” Aljazeera, Jan. 4, 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/4/chinas-data-underrepresent-the-true-impact-of-covid-who-says
“Latest COVID-19 surge is mostly infecting Australians who have not had the disease before,” ABC Australia, Jan. 4, 2023. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-01-04/latest-surge-infecting-people-who-have-not-had-covid19/101794332
“XBB.1.5, a more contagious variant, now accounts for over 40% of COVID cases,” USA Today, Jan. 4, 2023. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2023/01/04/new-covid-variant-xbb/10984383002/
“Governor Newsom to End the COVID-19 State of Emergency,” Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, Oct. 17, 2022. https://www.gov.ca.gov/2022/10/17/governor-newsom-to-end-the-covid-19-state-of-emergency/#:~:text=SACRAMENTO%20%E2%80%93%20Today%2C%20Governor%20Gavin%20Newsom,used%20to%20combat%20COVID%2D19.
“END TO FLORIDA’S STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARATION,” Rosenbaum PLLC, https://rosenbaumpllc.com/end-to-floridas-state-of-emergency-declaration/
“COVID-19 public health emergency will not end in January: reports,” McKnight’s Senior Living, Nov. 14, 2022. https://www.mcknightsseniorliving.com/home/news/covid-19-public-health-emergency-will-not-end-in-january-reports/
What is History’s Edge?
History’s Edge has been looking at how history unfolds in the present for fifteen years. Since March 11, 2020, I have focused on the modern pandemic experience, drawing on my background as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis. In 2023 I will continue to look at the 2020 pandemic and its consequences as they continue to impact our world.