The COVID-19 Pandemic: Colorado's curve has bent and moreJan 31, 2022
In last week’s modeling report, the Colorado Modeling Group offered good news: the Omicron pandemic is declining in Colorado. Over the 10 days from January 17 through January 27, the number of Coloradans hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 dropped from 1,676 to 1,444. While the epidemic curve has “bent”, the rate of infection remains high with an estimated 5% of Coloradans infectious at present. The pace at which Omicron will decline cannot be predicted with great certainty, but if as rapid as in New York City, the number hospitalized could reach prior lows by the end of February. Unknowns abound, but for the short-term, the rate of immunity to Omicron is estimated to reach as high as 80%, providing a temporary umbra of protection. We are not back to 2019 prior to the pandemic in Colorado; it is not yet the moment to stop using respiratory protective devices or to risk high-exposure environments. And, for the longer-run, the mix of epidemic drivers, all wrapped in uncertainties, includes the next variant(s), the persistence of immunity from vaccination and infection, the effectiveness and reach of future vaccinations, and inescapably, our behavior.
Ending the pandemic, or at least relegating it to “endemic”, will require scientific advances and trust by the public in the gains in scientific knowledge. Disturbing results about the public’s view of science were released last week from a new survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In data collected at the end of 2020 and into 2021, 48% of Americans reported “a great deal of confidence in science.” There was a troubling gulf by political affiliation with 64% of Democrats having this level of confidence versus 34% of Republicans. This 30% gap was up from only 9% in 2018. Findings from a January 2022 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center bring a similar message of declining trust in critical institutions and people. The poll results from the fifth in the series show drops in confidence by the public for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to 72% and for Dr. Fauci to 65%. The gulf between Democrats and Republicans mirrored that for confidence in science.
This political divide around science and public health has long-run implications for ending the pandemic. The endgame for the pandemic will involve achieving and maintaining the highest rate of immunity possible in the population of Colorado, the United States, and all nations. Segmenting immune and vaccination status by party or other ideologies will be a barrier for everyone—one that defies resolution at present. In a recent article in The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews recent books on the origins of hyperpartisanship, but solutions are not described to a problem with serious public health implications. Public health communications and measures need to reach everyone to be effective and the partisan divide is an unwanted complication to doing so.
Sarah Palin proved a poster child for the COVID-19 follies last week. Unvaccinated, she was spotted in a New York City restaurant that requires vaccination status to be verified. Two days later she tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, leading the restaurant to contact its guests concerning their exposure. Seemingly unabashed, she dined outdoors at the same restaurant two days later.
I don’t know much about conservative media figure Joe Rogan, but Neil Young seems to. In his podcasts on Spotify, Rogan has delivered misleading information concerning COVID-19 and vaccines, although not reaching Spotify’s “threshold” for removing him. Spotify met Neil Young’s threshold and he pulled his music from Spotify as did Joni Mitchell. Rogan is apparently a major draw for Spotify, which saw a substantial drop in its share price last week. Stay tuned to Spotify or not.
Be optimistic and stay well,
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health