Despite what you may have heard, the pandemic is not over and you should be wearing a respirator indoors and in outdoor areas near others. As the WHO Director-General noted, the lifting of international emergency status did not mean the end of the pandemic: "The worst thing any country could do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about." Frann Michel comments on hospitals dropping masking, In-N-Out Burger restricting workers from masking without medical documentation, and the inadequacy of proposed Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) guidelines.
Image by Adam Dowis. Used with permission.
Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 (or maybe SARS-CoV-3--it's evolved a lot) has killed upwards of 22 million people worldwide and disabled upwards of 65 million. It's a vascular disease--that is, though it usually infects via the respiratory system, it attacks the blood vessels--so it affects every system in the body, increasing rates of of heart attack, brain damage, and diabetes (among other things), contributing to cancer and to bone loss, and disrupting the immune system so that survivors are more vulnerable to other infections. Vaccination provides some protection against the most severe and immediate effects--and is definitely safer than infection--but even people up-to-date on boosters may become infected, and even people without symptoms may suffer long-term injury or transmit it to others.
Since the US ended the pandemic emergency declaration, and the World Health Organization ended Covid's status as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, you might think the pandemic is over.
It is [...] with great hope that I declare COVID-19 over as a global health emergency.However, that does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global health threat.Last week, COVID-19 claimed a life every three minutes – and that’s just the deaths we know about.As we speak, thousands of people around the world are fighting for their lives in intensive care units.And millions more continue to live with the debilitating effects of post-COVID-19 condition. This virus is . . . still killing, and it’s still changing. The risk remains of new variants emerging that cause new surges in cases and deaths.
The worst thing any country could do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about. . . .
In the United States--doing the worst thing any country can do--official and media sources have indeed often suggested the disease is nothing to worry about, and governments have dismantled systems of social and medical support and of data collection and reporting.
Despite that withdrawal of surveillance and jiggering of statistics, the CDC has acknowledged signs of a new surge in US cases, with increasing Emergency Room visits, test positivity, and viral levels in wastewater.
There are things we could, collectively, do about this: improved indoor ventilation and air filtration, Far-UV or upper-room-UV disinfection, easy access to more accurate free PCR testing, universal healthcare and sick leave policies, and widespread availability and mandating of respirator masks would all go a long way towards reducing the spread.
Most of these things are available to the wealthy and powerful. The World Economic Forum had most of them in place for their last meeting in Davos. The schools attended by children of former CDC head Rachelle Walensky and former Covid czar Ashish Jha had upgraded air filtration systems installed before their kids went back to the classroom. The Department of Defense has installed Far UV throughout their locations and is now upgrading that technology in military bases. The US President meets with no one who has not just had a negative PCR test.
For most individuals, though, the best we can do is follow the WHO recommendation to wear a mask anytime we are "in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space." That is, pretty much anywhere indoors or anywhere outdoors near other people.
But like the Director General's advice to nations, the WHO's cautionary messages to individuals have not been stressed, and indeed there has been an"active disinformation campaign dedicated to making the pandemic 'disappear.'" As Tithi Bhattacharya noted recently in Truthout, "COVID has yielded the most stunningly pervasive gaslighting phenomenon in recent history. Willing and eager governments worldwide are abandoning citizens to a debilitating disease by one simple trick: saying it no longer exists."
Thus, the attempts to discourage or prevent the wearing of masks, since, as what Walensky called the 'scarlet letter' of the pandemic, masks remind us of the continuing danger, so capitalists fear mask-wearing might interfere with economic activity.
Some of this campaign to disappear the continuing pandemic has been bankrolled by the usual oligarchs--Koch Foundations, the American Institute for Economic Research, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and so on--but it's also been supported by supposedly centrist media and pundits and journalists--because I guess promoting mass death and disablement is a centrist position. Certainly the Biden administration has wanted to claim a win by saying the pandemic is over--as Democratic Party consultants advised. Nevermind that by this time last year something like 4 million people in the US had become too disabled to work, that just in the month of June this year, another 857,000 Americans became disabled, that life expectancy in the US has continued to decline dramatically. Our corporate overlords want to see those smiles.
Thus, you may have heard, In-N-Out Burger introduced a new policy in several states to forbid workers from wearing masks unless they have a medical waiver. You can sign on to a petition or write to the company if you think this is a bad idea.
Thus, too, a hospital in Massachusetts tried to forbid patients from even asking their healthcare providers to mask, though after protests they did allow patients to make the request, but not to expect a yes, despite the apparent violation this entails of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unconfirmed reports suggest other hospitals are also actively discouraging doctors and other healthcare workers from wearing masks, because it might remind people of the dangers of the continuing pandemic. We can plausibly speculate that this stems from the same private-equity logic that led hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic to lay off healthcare workers, because of the decline in lucrative elective procedures.
The disinformation and gaslighting may be about to get further official sanction. The Health Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) advises the CDC and Department of Health on guidelines for infection control in health-care settings, guidelines that are typically adopted by the CDC and become national standards. They meet again in August and may vote on updating guidelines, but their latest proposal actually weakens current guidelines in ways that would expose more healthcare workers as well as patients to airborne infection. National Nurses United have a sign-on letter protesting this move and calling for greater transparency in the HICPAC process. Infection Control standards should include attention to ventilation, and fitted N95 respirators should be the minimum required for--and thus provided to--health workers, even though the cost of fit-testing might impair the bottom lines of the health industry executives who advise the committee.
The rest of us should keep in mind that any mask is better than no mask, but a well-fitted N95 or reusable elastomeric respirator provides the wearer with significantly better protection than a baggy surgical mask.
This has been Frann Michel, reminding you again to wear a mask.