Making sense of COVID-19’s risk now : NPR

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It can be a unusual second in the pandemic. For most vaccinated people, the chance of severe health issues has long gone way down. But hundreds are dying of COVID-19 every day. So how perilous is the virus now?


It really is a strange instant in the pandemic. Mask mandates and other limitations have all but disappeared. Vaccines and boosters suggest heaps of people are protected against significant illness, and nevertheless hundreds of persons are even now dying from COVID-19 each working day. So we are remaining to determine out for ourselves how risky that night out at the movies is or that journey overseas.

CARLA SCUZZARELLA: You know, it’s type of on the back again burner for a lot of – it was on the back again burner for us.

SUMMERS: Carla and Frank Scuzzarella of Saugus, Mass., had place off their European vacation given that 2020, but this summertime they ended up both of those double-boosted. It felt protected, so they went – Spain, Portugal, Morocco, London.

SCUZZARELLA: And we experienced a amazing, excellent 3 weeks. I am grateful for that time. And I have a lot of wonderful recollections and fantastic shots from that. But, you know, we are house for 4 days, and he’s in the crisis place.

SUMMERS: Frank went to the medical center on August 6, and he speedily bought worse.

SCUZZARELLA: Form of unbelievable how rapidly it set up itself in him. And, you know, inside a week he experienced small blood clots in both lungs from the COVID. You know, it was horrible.

SUMMERS: Frank was on a every day steroid to control his rheumatoid arthritis, and that set him at larger danger for a intense circumstance. And he died just final 7 days on Labor Day. He was 64 several years previous. Now Carla is changing to life without the guy who coached their son’s hockey and Little League groups, who was getting prepared to welcome their next grandchild, the gentleman who she’d been with because they have been 17 many years old.

SCUZZARELLA: I’ve been pondering a ton about what we even now needed to do, and now I got to figure out, you know, how to be by myself without having him. It truly is been a lengthy time.

SUMMERS: Carla states she wants individuals to know that COVID is not a joke. For the folks who can’t battle it off, it truly is not just a cold. But she also understands that persons want to dwell their lives.

SCUZZARELLA: You are not able to say it can be gone. And I know all people – you know, we don’t have to essentially don masks. We you should not have to remain six toes aside. You have to live your everyday living. And which is the way we seemed at it when we planned to go on our trip this summer time – that we felt risk-free and we have to reside our life however. But you just – you cannot fully let your guard down however.

SUMMERS: Even among the experts, there is discussion about how dangerous COVID is proper now and what safety measures most folks ought to be getting. And the way this problem is generally framed is as a comparison. At this level, is COVID extra or considerably less perilous than the seasonal flu? The flu, just after all, is a disease we are common with and a risk that most of us are at ease dealing with just about every fall and winter season. NPR well being correspondent Rob Stein has been digging into this debate. Hey, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hello, Juana.

SUMMERS: All correct. So we have expended decades now living in concern of COVID simply because it was viewed as so considerably a lot more risky than the flu. So how could COVID have turn out to be no more menacing than the flu?

STEIN: That’s the massive debate appropriate now. Quite a few industry experts say it truly is way way too before long to declare COVID a menace on par with the flu. But some infectious disease authorities are prepared to go that significantly, like Dr. Monica Gandhi at the College of California San Francisco.

MONICA GANDHI: We have all been questioning, when does COVID look like influenza in conditions of deaths? And, yes, we are there. We are basically at a low circumstance fatality charge exactly where COVID has reached influenza. So live your life in a way that you used to are living with endemic seasonal flu.

STEIN: Gandhi says which is for the reason that men and women have designed up potent immunity from finding vaccinated or contaminated or each and because omicron won’t seem to have designed individuals as ill as earlier versions of the virus. So she states except some nastier variant abruptly emerges, COVID’s menace has diminished significantly.

SUMMERS: Okay. But that is a controversial perspective, suitable?

STEIN: Yeah, completely, certainly. Other individuals argue that we could ideally be heading in that route, but we are not there however – not even near. I talked about this with White Home adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.

ANTHONY FAUCI: I am sorry. I just disagree. COVID is a much far more major community health concern than is influenza. The severity of just one when compared to the other is really rather stark. And the prospective to eliminate of one particular vs . the other is genuinely really stark. Under no circumstances, at any time, ever would flu destroy 1,031,000 folks in two and a 50 % several years.

STEIN: Earning COVID the 3rd leading cause of dying in the U.S. And Dr. Fauci details out that COVID is however killing hundreds of men and women every day, which translated into much more than 125,000 fatalities a year. A really lousy flu season kills, you know, it’s possible 50,000 people.

SUMMERS: Okay. That is a pretty big change, Rob. So what do individuals who say that the COVID possibility has waned say about that?

STEIN: You know, they agree that omicron is so contagious that it is continue to building plenty of people unwell, some genuinely sick. So, you know, heaps of persons are however receiving severely unwell and even dying. But it’s turn into scarce for most youthful, otherwise healthier folks to get so unwell they conclude up in a medical center or die, especially if they’re vaccinated and boosted. And Dr. Shira Doron at Tufts University argues that numerous hospitalizations being blamed on COVID are truly men and women hospitalized with COVID, not mainly because of COVID.

SHIRA DORON: We are now seeing continuously extra than 70% of our COVID hospitalizations are in that group. If you’re counting them all as hospitalizations and then all those men and women die and you rely them all as COVID deaths, you are very radically above-counting.

STEIN: Which she claims suggests the every day demise rely is almost certainly really significantly closer to what occurs all through a standard flu year. And quite a few authorities say so lots of non-fatal bacterial infections aren’t becoming reported mainly because of house tests. It really is masking that the risk of dying from COVID has probably dropped to about the very same as the flu.

SUMMERS: And, Rob, what do we know about who is still dying from COVID?

STEIN: Yeah. Most of all those ending up in the clinic or dying are people who are more mature, especially the age 75 and older, who have other well being troubles, primarily all those who usually are not vaccinated or boosted. I talked about this with Heather Scobie at the Centers for Disorder Command and Avoidance.

HEATHER SCOBIE: People that are 65 to 74 years have 60 moments the danger of dying than persons that are 18 to 29. And people today that are 85 yrs and more mature have 330 times the hazard as opposed to persons that are 18 to 29.

STEIN: So it really is tremendous-vital that they get vaccinated and boosted and get handled speedily if they do get ill.

SUMMERS: And, Rob, we’ve been conversing a lot about deaths from COVID, but some thing that I know a whole lot of people today are concerned about is extensive COVID.

STEIN: Ideal, totally. You know, Dr. Fauci and others say that’s another way COVID remains a far larger danger than the flu. Although individuals can finish up with lingering wellness difficulties from the flu and other viral infections, the chance from COVID is estimated to be much increased. But, you know, some health professionals say the believed danger for extended COVID comes from men and women who acquired severely unwell early on in the pandemic. And if you rely for that, the risk of extensive-term health issues might not be a lot greater from COVID than from other viral infections. But, you know, that, way too, remains a matter of fantastic debate.

SUMMERS: Which is NPR health and fitness correspondent Rob Stein. Thank you so a great deal.

STEIN: You happen to be welcome – good to be listed here.


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