‘We know people are anxious’ to return to pre-pandemic life

WASHINGTON — Asked at a Wednesday briefing from the White House pandemic response team about when Americans could expect life to return to normal, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave a somewhat cryptic but revealing answer.

“We know people are anxious,” Walensky said.

Asked what fear she was referring to, a spokesperson for Walensky told Yahoo News: “This comment was made in response to a question about whether people can change their habits to gather in groups or go to bars and restaurants. dr. Walensky recognizes that many people would like to return to these activities and that COVID-19 is no longer interfering with their daily lives.”

dr.  Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention answers questions during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention answers questions during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Indeed, a recent poll by YouGov for Yahoo News found that 46 percent of Americans said society must learn to live with the virus and return to pre-pandemic normality. A recent poll in Monmouth found even more dramatic resultswith 70 percent of respondents agreeing that “we should just get on with our lives”.

There is certainly a lot of anxiety: about catching COVID-19, which still kills more than 2,000 people a day, but also about what public health officials have in mind for the future. Resistance to masking in schools is growing even among progressives, amid a wider recognition that while caution remains warranted, Americans are becoming increasingly impatient.

Walensky described himself as “cautiously optimistic” but offered nothing better than a… approval of return to normal what governors who met with President Biden earlier this week have hoped.

“Milder doesn’t mean mild,” Walensky said, referring to the fact that the Omicron tends to cause more mild illness† But nearly 40 percent of eligible Americans are unvaccinated. And of fully vaccinated people, 60 percent have not had a booster vaccination, which epidemiologists say is necessary to provide the highest level of protection against the coronavirus.

“We’ve really looked at our hospitalization rates and our death rates, to see when it’s time to lift some of these mitigation efforts,” Walensky said, explaining why her agency’s guidelines on masking remain cautious and why the recent drop in cases is not received with the enthusiasm that some think it deserves.

A health worker treats a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn.

A health worker treats a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn. (Allison Dinner/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Hospitals are full in many parts of the countryand COVID-19 still takes a much greater toll in the United States than in other developed countries. “We have normalized a very high death toll in the US,” Dartmouth public health scientist Anne Sosin told the New York Times.

The pandemic has frustrated previous attempts at reopening with new variants pushing a real reopening — masks off, people back in offices, schools open and restaurants full — ever further into the future.

last spring, the CDC has lifted indoor masking guidelines for vaccinated people, a move that some thought was premature. Then, in early July, President Biden declared his independence from the virus, symbolically speaking on Independence Day during a celebration honoring the first respondents. That too was seen by some as a rash move.

But at the end of the summer we saw a wave of new cases, fueled by the Delta variant. Just as it was decreasing, Omicron came by. While that wave is also now fading, public health officials are hesitant to declare victory. During the White House briefing with Walensky, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, is reminding Americans that even the recent drop in cases could spell a lull before another variant emerges.

Which could mean that whether people are concerned about the coronavirus or trying to relegate the disease to the past, they may have to live in the current state of uncertainty. “We have to be honest we don’t know,” Fauci said of the pandemic’s eventual trajectory. But, he added: “We believe we are now moving in the right direction.”

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