Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — March 30, 2022

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

506.  It is uncertain if the more infectious BA.2 subvarient will cause a surge.

         Q:  Is another surge in Covid-19 cases possible?

         A:  The New York Times on March 23 published an article assessing the possibilities of yet another Covid surge.  Reporter Jonathan Wolf identified that barely two months after the Omicron wave, U.S. epidemiologists are already warning of another swell in the pandemic.  Though Covid case numbers are falling in most of the U.S., scientists warn that the quiet may soon give way to another surge driven by an Omicron subvariant, BA.2. It is already fueling an increase in cases in 18 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.  BA.2 is more contagious than the version of Omicron that just spread through the U.S.  Some places like New York City are seeing early signs of cases ticking up, though at very low levels overall.  And BA.2 is quickly becoming more prevalent in many places.  But whether that turns into a wave — as some countries in Europe are seeing — is hard to know for sure.  Jonathan states, “There are a few possibilities. Some experts predict that a BA.2 wave could come as soon as April, or perhaps later in the spring or in the early summer.  Spring is also when people do more socializing outside, which could slow down transmission somewhat.  A worst-case scenario is that the U.S. follows the path of the U.K., where not only have cases surged, but so have hospitalizations,”  The U.S. has vaccinated and boosted people at lower rates than Western Europe, and Americans are dying from Covid at far higher rates than people in other European countries.  Experts worry that those low booster and vaccination rates, especially in older people, could put the U.S. in a vulnerable position once BA.2 takes hold.  Plus, there’s the fear that some parts of the U.S. have effectively been without restrictions for months and this could speed a rise in cases.  Many epidemiologists have expressed concern that instead of preparing for a possible new surge, US officials appear to be relaxing their efforts.  The result would be a rapid loss of control should a new surge begin with greater numbers of serious cases and death than happened just last January.

507.  America is about to test how long the “new normal’ can hold.

         QAre the new CDC guidelines effective in reacting quickly if a new variant emerges?

         A:  The scientific consensus is that the general public has accepted a loosening of mask mandates even if this means the number of serious cases and deaths from Covid result.  “Whenever it arrives, the next surge could put the country’s tolerance for disease and death in full relief,” states Katherine J. Wu, a staff writer at The Atlantic.   She continues, “Outbreaks have erupted across Asia.  Massive swaths of Europe, including the United Kingdom, are firmly in the grip of a more transmissible Omicron subvariant called BA.2.”  As early as last week, several states’ wastewater-surveillance sites are witnessing a rise in viral particles, which, in previous waves, has predicted an increase in documented infections.

Katherine explains, “However it manifests, the next American surge will be a stress test of the nation’s new COVID strategy, a plan that focuses on mitigating severe disease and death, and almost nothing else. Places that follow the CDC’s lead will let infections climb, and climb, and climb, until they’ve seeded a rash of hospitalizations, with more to follow. Only then will our new guidelines say that’s enough.  By the time the government says that it’s time to act, any wave we experience will be well underway. Whatever happens next, we’re living the reality the CDC’s guidance bargained for. The country’s new COVID rules have asked us to sit tight, wait, and watch. We may soon see the country’s true tolerance for disease and death on full display.” Katherine gives an example. “On the CDC’s risk map, the state of New York, for instance, where cases have been gently moseying upward for about a week, remains awash in a uniform shade of green—denoting ‘low’ COVID-19 community levels.  Counties would need to clear 200 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period to warrant a flip to the yellow tones of ‘medium.’ At that point, the CDC would suggest that people who rub elbows with folks at high risk for severe disease might want to consider self-testing or masking indoors.”

508.  Americans want to return to normal.  But they also don’t want Covid to return.

         Q:  What does public polling show people want for CDC guidelines to work?

         A:  Natalie Jackson, the director of research at Duke University’s Public Religion Research Institute, recently explored polling information on the new CDC guidelines.  She reported that recent opinion surveys give mixed messages about how Americans perceive the current state of the pandemic, and what they think we should do about it.  In a February Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, 58 percent of Americans said that controlling the spread of the coronavirus is more important than loosening restrictions on normal activities. Yet, in a Yahoo News/You Gov poll conducted the same week, 51 percent said we need to learn to live with COVID-19 and get back to normal.

These are examples that show Americans have seemingly conflicting views about the pandemic.   She next set out to answer the question: is it the polls or the American people who are confused? And what do Americans really think?

She ruled out that the polling was flawed and do give reliable results.  COVID surveys, however,  do provide a muddy picture of how people are thinking about the pandemic. She found an example by answers given that show if the government decides to require masks, these people are okay with it.  At the same time, if the government decides not to require masks, they’re okay with that too.  In conclusion, she finds that what these recent polls show is that no single question can capture public opinion on COVID-19.  Americans express a strong desire to get on with life, but also believe that COVID remains a real problem.  Americans’ attitudes are complex because the issues involved are complex.  If Americans can agree about anything, it’s that this complexity is here to stay. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 78 percent of Americans believe that “normal” life will look different than it did pre-pandemic.

509. Current federal funding for Covid-19 is nearly exhausted.

         Q: With all the experiences of two years, aren’t we better prepared for future outbreaks?

         A:  “All epidemics trigger the same dispiriting cycle. First, panic: As new pathogens emerge, governments throw money, resources, and attention at the threat. Then, neglect. Once the danger dwindles, budgets shrink, and memories fade. The world ends up where it started, forced to confront each new disease unprepared and therefore primed for panic.”  Ed Yong, staff writer for the Atlantic made this observation in a recently published article.  Now, he has observed that this cycle is returning with accelerated rapidity.

This week, Congress approved a 1.5 trillion spending bill but did so after removing $15 billion in coronavirus funding.  The bill without Covid funds was later signed into law.  Young stated, “The decision is catastrophic, and as the White House has noted, its consequences will unfurl quickly.”  Yong continued, “The government will no longer be able to reimburse health-care providers for testing, vaccinating, or treating millions of uninsured Americans…”  As early as June, domestic testing will be at risk.  Free doses won’t be available of antiviral pills that immuno- compromised people need.  Vaccines in poor countries will be curtailed.  If the FDA approves further booster shots, they may have to be paid for by the patients.  He concludes with the thought, “A country that so readily forgets its dead is surely prone to also forgetting the lessons of the all-too-recent past, setting itself up for further failure in an all-too-imminent future.”

510.  Cardiac complications from breakthrough covid cases are being explored.

         Q:  Are there any complications from even mild breakthrough Covid cases?

         A:  The Sunday March 20 Tampa Bay Times newspaper gave front-page exposure to a trend that scientists have been investigating for some time.  The headline: “Did Covid Attack his Heart?”  Juan Sosa 58, who had been previously vaccinated, had just gotten over a mild case of Covid-19.  Then came a heart attack  He barely survived.

His case fits a similar pattern among Covid-19 patients nationwide.  Several studies have shown that the virus can damage the heart.  A study in 2020 published in The Lancet found that the risk of a first heart attack increases between 3 and 8 times in the first week after a Covid-19 infection was diagnosed.  That study followed nearly 87,000 people in Sweden during an eight-month period.  Their risk of stroke also increased up to 6 times.    Another study published in Nature Magazine a month ago looked at health data from the Department of Veterans Affairs for about 153,000 veterans who contracted the virus.  Researchers found they suffered from an elevated risk of severe heart conditions for up to a year afterward.  They had a 53% higher risk of stroke, 63% higher risk of heart attack and 73% increased risk of heart failure.  Even mild breakthrough cases were included in the data.  Richard Becker, MD, director of the Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine is a leading researcher on this topic.  He concluded, “The potential for long-term cardiovascular risk is of great concern.”