Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA-7) has said it is time to declare an end to the Covid-19 pandemic that has ravaged the world for the past two years.
Bera said as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, an internal medicine physician and former chief medical officer for Sacramento County, he wasn’t making the statement lightly.
Declaring an end to the pandemic would not imply that Covid-19 had disappeared or that people will no longer get ill and even die from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, he said. Nor would it guarantee that there would be no new variants that can evade existing vaccines and have a more deadly impact than Omicron.
It would simply acknowledge the fact that the virus is here to stay and we must learn how to manage and live with it as we have with other respiratory pathogens.
In a statement released last week, Bera, MD, said the world now knows a lot more about the virus than it did two years ago and also has several safe and effective vaccines that offer a great deal of protection, including against severe illness, hospitalization and death.
“It’s our duty to continue to encourage Americans to get vaccinated and boosted, since it’s clear that is the best tool we have right now to combat Covid,” Bera said.
He said countries would need to continue to invest in research to discover newer vaccines that may be more effective against new variants, and to also study the viability of nasal or oral vaccines. “We should continue to support the health departments, researchers and scientists to ensure that we are ready for the challenges any future illnesses may stress on our health systems,” he said.
He also called for continued work with academia, the national institutes of health and the pharmaceutical industry to develop newer therapies to help manage and treat Covid. “As we have learned with other viruses, we may need a cocktail of multiple antiviral therapies to best attack Covid and prevent the emergence of new variants,” he said.
But, he said, it is now possible for life to get back to normal and children to go back to school even while keeping them, teachers and staff safe.
He said Congress had provided billions of dollars to school districts to improve ventilation systems within classrooms to create a safer learning environment. School districts and daycares across the country should immediately upgrade to high-efficiency particulate air fan/filtration systems. These, he said, will also reduce incidence of the flu and improve asthma care.
He also said the lessons learnt over the past two years should be implemented by building a robust public health system, something that has been neglected in the past, leaving everyone unprepared to face a public health crisis.
“Now that we have spent billions of dollars combating Covid, we must build off these investments to improve our overall community health,” Bera suggested. “We need better bio and wastewater surveillance, improved genetic sequencing to more quickly identify new variants or novel viruses, and a public health workforce that can help our vaccination campaigns and address other public health issues.”
He also called on people to wear masks whenever there are flare-ups of respiratory illnesses, including the cold and flu, since it is now clear that they help to mitigate the transmission of such illnesses. With readily available at-home rapid tests, we can now test ourselves if we have a runny nose, sore throat or are going to visit a vulnerable friend or relative. And with the adoption of telework, tele-health and remote learning, we can continue to stay connected if we are ill without totally isolating ourselves or putting others at risk.
“It has been a long and challenging two years for us all,” Dr Bera said. “It will take time to recover from the social, economic, health and mental health challenges we have faced. But as we transition from the Covid-19 pandemic to endemic, the first step to recovery is to reclaim our lives.”