As we enter our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is evolving and so should we


Jan Kopriva / Unsplash

Over 900,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. As the pandemic changes, our approach must evolve with it.

In March 2020, the world came to a halt as COVID-19 spread rapidly across the world, beginning the first pandemic since 1918 when the Spanish flu killed over 50 million globally. As the pandemic spread, our lives changed drastically: We were introduced to new terms like “social distancing” and wore masks to protect ourselves and each other. 

At the beginning of this month, the United States hit a staggering 900,000 COVID-19 deaths in total; a staggering number. In March of 2020, we had no idea what this virus was, how to fight it and there was no vaccine in sight. Today, 212 million Americans are vaccinated, there are multiple therapeutics on the market and we understand this virus better than ever before. As the pandemic evolves, our idea of normal must evolve too. 

At the advent of the pandemic, we gauged its seriousness by the number of Americans who were hospitalized and the number of deaths daily. In the first few months, we saw hospitals flooded and health care workers overwhelmed. 

In New York state, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 1, 2020, and by the 31st of that month, 1,000 people had died in New York City alone. These experiences have shaped our understanding of COVID-19; we see how deadly this virus can be when unchecked. 

In addition to how deadly this virus is, we have also had to counter those who decided to downplay it. Prominent politicians like former President Donald Trump minimized the severity of the virus in public while privately expressing concern

“This is a flu,” Trump said. “This is like a flu.” 

During the summer of 2021, the delta variant emerged. This variant was much more contagious and deadly than the original strain of COVID-19, but there was one critical difference; vaccines. In July of 2021, 97% of those admitted to hospitals were unvaccinated, demonstrating how effective vaccines really are. 

The spread of the omicron variant caused panic throughout the country, as it  was far more contagious than the strains that came before it but was also far less deadly. Instead of gauging the seriousness of omicron by hospitalizations and deaths, we gauged it by new cases. This is a mistake and leads to a misunderstanding of the progress we have made. 

147,248 new cases and 1,900 deaths were recorded on Jan. 1, 2021. 161,060 new cases were reported on that same day in 2022, but there were only 273 deaths. There are plenty of problems with recording this data and the numbers do vary, but it proves a point; COVID-19 is spreading more quickly but leading to less deaths. 

It is not that we should dismiss COVID-19 and act like the pandemic is over; it’s not. We have to evolve our thinking about how to live with it. When it comes to virology, there are no rules, only trends, but viruses like COVID tend to become less severe with time, so that’s good news. Even those like Dr. Fauci, who has been criticized as overly cautious, seem to be taking a more optimistic tone

“Things are looking good. We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now,” Fauci said in an interview on ABC “This Week.” 

At this point in the pandemic, being over cautious may be causing more harm than good. School closures affect low income communities far more than other communities, worsening the disparities that already exist. The economy is improving and the stock market had one of its best years in recent history, but Americans are still hurting as inflation skyrockets. A year after President Biden’s election, over 25% of Americans still report “difficulty covering usual expenses.”

The pandemic is evolving and we must evolve with it. This does not mean we throw caution to the wind, this does not mean that COVID is not far more deadly than other viruses but we have to recognize the progress we’ve made. The pandemic we faced in 2020 is not the same pandemic we face today, and that is something we should all be optimistic about.