People desperately want to know, "When will the pandemic end?" For months there has been debate on when society should attempt to return to a version of the pre-pandemic normalcy. Months ago, life returned to somewhat normal in many Republican-governed states after restrictions were lifted, yet there are still mask mandates in several Democratic-controlled states.
In Friday's edition of the New York Times' "The Morning" newsletter, the "paper of record" asked, "Is it time to start moving back to normalcy?"
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist David Leonhardt admitted that COVID-19 restrictions have had a negative effect on society: "Remote school has been a failure. Remote office work hampers collaboration. Social isolation causes mental-health problems."
Leonhardt notes that a "society permanently dominated by Covid" is "jarring."
"Eventually, the costs of organizing our lives around the virus will exceed the benefits," he writes in the left-leaning outlet. "In some cases, we may have already reached that point."
Leonhardt ponders, "For how long should individuals organize their own lives around a fear of COVID?" To answer this question, Leonhardt drew on the expertise of Dr. Robert Wachter – professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Wachter is saying that "now" is the time to return to normalcy.
Wachter declares that now is the best time to return to normalcy because he believes that COVID-19 will be with us for years or possibly forever.
"This belief stems from the fact that the virus is unlikely to go away, ever," Leonhardt wrote. "Like most viruses, it will probably keep circulating, with cases rising sometimes and falling other times. But we have the tools — vaccines, along with an emerging group of treatments — to turn it into a manageable virus, similar to the seasonal flu."
Wachter recently warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is not likely not to get too much better or too much worse.
"My feeling now is that we're nearing a steady state where things might get a little better or worse, for the next few years. It's not great, but it is what it is," Wachter told the Washington Post.
"There's no cavalry coming, so decisions now should be predicated on this being something near steady state," he continued. "To me, particularly once I got my booster, it prompts me to accept a bit more risk, mainly because if I'm not comfortable doing it now, I'm basically saying that I won't do it for several years, and maybe forever."
The newsletter highlighted that the 64-year-old Wachter — who is fully vaccinated and has had a booster shot — has resumed his old activities such as eating in indoor restaurants, playing poker with friends who are also vaccinated, and taking airplanes to visit relatives.
"I'm still going to be thoughtful and careful," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If I'm not going to do it now, I'm probably saying that I'm not going to do it for the next couple of years, and I might be saying I'm not doing it forever."
Following the publication of the Times newsletter, Wachter gave more detail to his position.
"To be clear, I'm still careful, worried about surges, & hoping for a far better end-game," he wrote on Twitter. "But I now see our likeliest long-term state as being a version of now — with moderate ups & downs."
In an interview with sports talk radio host Chris Russo on Sirius XM on Wednesday, Wachter said in order to stop the pandemic, the percent of Americans who need to be fully vaccinated should be "closer to 80 to 90 percent because Delta is so damn infectious." The United States is currently 59% fully vaccinated, and Wachter isn't sure we'll ever attain that level of vaccination.
"I think we're heading to a new equilibrium that I don't love," Wachter said. "I could see things getting 20%-30% better than they are now — fewer cases, more things opening up, people feeling more comfortable going out to concerts and sports events."
"I can't see them getting 90% better, and I don't think they're going to get 90% worse," he continued. "I think we have enough vaccinated people that I think there is a level of protection that is going to prevent a massive surge."
"That's better than terrible," he added. "I don't love the fact that we're in a world where I think COVID is going to be with us for the foreseeable future — I think many years, maybe forever like the flu."
By left-leaning media outlets pounding home the dire aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, they may have scared their readers into not wanting to return to normal.
A Gallup poll from September found that Democrats vastly overestimated the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19.
For both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, very few adults reported a correct answer, which is less than one percent. Only 8% of U.S. adults gave correct answers for the unvaccinated population and 38% for the vaccinated population. Partisanship was a strong predictor of accuracy, but party accuracy varied by whether the respondent was assessing the risk of the vaccinated or unvaccinated populations. For unvaccinated hospitalization risk, 2% of Democrats responded correctly, compared with 16% of Republicans. In fact, 41% of Democrats replied that at least 50% of unvaccinated people have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.