It’s kind of a revelation to me to contemplate what it means to say the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Is it 200 or fewer American deaths a day, a number which is slightly worse that a bad flu season’s toll, and which has been discussed (but not accepted) as a possible metric inside the Biden administration?

To be clear, we’ve never been that low since the pandemic began. The best we ever did was 230 deaths a day, and that number soon shot up to over 2,600 a day once the Delta and Omicron variants hit. ┬áThat experience highlights the difficulty of declaring an end to the pandemic, but even 200 deaths a day isn’t something we should just accept. What kind of message does it send to say that the pandemic is over, and what, really, is the point in saying it?

If the administration wants to take a victory lap, that’s always going to have a strong and distasteful element to it, even if it’s well-deserved. And there’s always the risk that they’ll look foolish if the virus evolves again into something far more lethal.

I actually don’t see the point in making some pronouncement, ever. Far better to just stick to numbers. If the numbers are low and steady or improving, then the responsible public health officials should be proud to discuss that, as well as ways that more progress can be made. But this isn’t a virus that is likely to be eradicated. What we call it isn’t that important. In the most important sense, the threat is never going to be over, but how much we need to worry about it is going to change.

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