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(The Conversation) — President Joe Biden’s declaration that “the pandemic is over” generated controversy and bristled some experts who believe that message may be premature and counterproductive.
Yet for many Americans who have long since returned to their pre-pandemic activities and are now forced back into the office, the comment may be true.
The problem is that the feeling of “back to normal” can differ from one person to another, depending on the circumstances of each one and the criteria with which they consider that the pandemic is over. The Conversation asked three experts from different parts of American society affected by the pandemic – public health, education and economics – to assess the extent to which the pandemic is “over” in their worlds.
This is what they said:
Public health: not everything is black and white
Lisa Miller, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
President Biden answered the question of whether the pandemic is over with a clear “yes,” but it is not a black and white question.
It is true that, thanks to widespread immunity from vaccines and infections, the US is in a very different situation than the country was in even a year ago. But as an epidemiologist, I believe that the fact that there are still 350-400 deaths a day in the United States and hundreds of deaths a week in other countries around the world still constitutes a pandemic.
I understand the need for Biden, as a public figure, to try to succinctly lay out where the country is and offer some hope and reassurance, but public health experts are still in a position where no one can predict how the virus will mutate and evolve. These mutations may make the virus less dangerous, but it is also possible that the next variant may be more harmful.
At the end of the day, no matter what the current situation is called: Covid-19 still poses a significant and ongoing risk to the world. Pandemic or not, it is important to continue investing in developing better vaccines and reinforcing the preparedness of medical and public health systems. As covid-19 progresses, decision-makers risk losing sight of these important goals.
Economy: back to normal?
William Hauk, Associate Professor of Economics, University of South Carolina
As an economics researcher, I can speak to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the economy and its lingering effects.
And the good news is that the worst of the pandemic’s impact on the economy has been over for some time. After reaching a post-war high of 14.7% in April 2020, when the ravages of the pandemic were taking their toll, the unemployment rate has remained at 4% or less throughout 2022. In particular, in the August employment report, the total number of employed workers in the US surpassed its pre-pandemic high for the first time.
Although the labor market has largely recovered, there are still economic repercussions from the pandemic that the US will feel for some time.
There are still supply chain difficulties in some key areas, such as chips. Although we might have expected a stronger recovery in this area, geopolitical issues, such as the war in Ukraine, continue to cause problems. As a result, a full recovery may not occur for some time and efforts to fight higher inflation may be hampered.
Finally, many Americans may be reevaluating their work-life balance in the wake of the pandemic. Aggregate figures for the workforce suggest that the “Great Resignation” may be more of a reshaping of employment itself. However, the rise of “silent quits,” the phenomenon of employees limiting their productivity and not going “beyond it,” may lead many to conclude that workers are not as intrinsically motivated by their work as they once were. before covid-19.
So while the “pandemic” phase of covid-19 may be over for the economy, the emergence of a new normal could be seen as the beginning of an “endemic” effect. That is, we are no longer in an emergency situation, but the “normal” we are returning to may differ in many ways from the pre-Covid-19 world.
Schools: the pandemic aggravated the deficiencies
Wayne Au, professor of education, University of Washington, Bothell
While it is true that public schools have largely returned to “normal” operations in terms of optional mask-wearing standards, the return of high-level tests to measure teaching and learning, and attendance policies in person, the pandemic is not over in schools.
The pandemic-induced traumas many students have faced at home, through the deaths of friends and family, the impact of prolonged covid, isolation and anxiety brought on by parental job insecurity, and unequal access to healthcare, live inside them as they attend class today.
Many students have to relearn how to be with others in person and in social and academic settings. Additionally, students from low-income families continue to struggle to overcome the consequences of unequal access to resources and technology at home during distance schooling.
The gaps in educational outcomes right now are the same as they were before the pandemic, appearing at the intersection of race, class, and immigration. Just as the pandemic has exacerbated socioeconomic inequalities in general, it has also widened existing educational inequalities.
Additionally, pandemic-related stresses on teachers and school districts have resulted in staffing shortages across the country, creating further instability for learning in schools and classrooms.
These issues have been intensified by the pandemic and may affect predominantly low-income students for years to come.
— Wayne Au is affiliated with Rethinking Schools. Lisa Miller and William Hauk do not work for, consult with, own stock in, or receive funding from any company or organization that may benefit from this article, and have not disclosed any relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reproduced under a Creative Commons license from The Conversation.