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Some Politicians Want a New Label for Covid-19: Endemic

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly isn’t over–it is still killing more than 2,000 people daily– but some members of Congress would like it to be.

On Monday, more than 70 House Republicans signed a letter addressed to President Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra asking to end the designation of Covid-19 as a public health emergency. The letter doesn’t argue that the pandemic is over, but rather that with the accessibility of vaccines and effective treatments, the country is no longer in crisis mode.

“Today we call on your administration to do what so many states and other countries already have: accept that Covid-19 is endemic, recognize that current heavy-handed government interventions are doing more harm than good, and immediately begin the process by which we unwind the PHE so our country can get back to normal,” the GOP members of Congress wrote in the letter. 

The letter also asks that Biden submit a plan of action to Congress by March 15. The President has yet to respond, but Becerra noted in a press briefing on Tuesday that the Biden health department needs at least $30 billion to keep its wide-ranging Covid-19 response going. That would include additional resources to secure more treatments and vaccines, sustain testing capacity, and invest in research and development of next-generation vaccines. 

An endemic is essentially an ever-present threat. In terms of Covid-19, that means the virus will keep popping up, but its impact is fairly manageable and integrated into society, becoming more like a perennial illness, similar to the flu. Recent data show that we’re certainly headed in that direction. As of February 14, the seven-day moving average of daily new cases was 146,921, down from 806,785 on January 15–a decrease of more than 80%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We’re moving toward a time when Covid won’t disrupt our daily lives, a time when Covid won’t be a constant crisis but rather will be something we can protect against and treat,” Jeffrey Zients, the White House Covid response coordinator, said during the briefing.

Republicans aren’t the only ones working towards a post-Covid world. In the past few weeks, Democratic leaders in New York, California, Delaware, Connecticut, Oregon, and New Jersey have each lifted indoor face mask mandates. However, the CDC’s guidance hasn’t changed. The agency recommends masking in public in areas of substantial or high transmission, regardless of vaccination status.  (Substantial transmission is defined as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000, or a positivity rate between eight and 10 percent; and high transmission is defined as 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate of 10 percent or higher.) 

Downgrading the pandemic’s status would be good news for businesses looking to get employees back to the office as it may be a legitimate rationale for getting people together. As long as your company is following CDC, local, and state guidelines, there’s no reason employees shouldn’t return to the office in person. 

However, it doesn’t mean you should disregard Covid-19 entirely. In an endemic, policy changes actually become even more integrated into regular life, making them crucial to keep local Covid-19 spikes at bay. So you should be prepared to inform employees on any safety precautions and practices required before they start returning to the office. Also, stay current with the transmission rate in your local area, and be prepared to make any policy changes quickly if needed.

You can of course, create your own mandates, such as requiring masks, social distancing, and vaccinations, but keep in mind that if it’s not required through public health guidelines, employees may push back. In other words, in an endemic state, policy relies more on you.

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