Coronavirus Update: Former Biden advisers lay out a new strategy to address endemic COVID-19

Nearly two years into the pandemic, not much is working.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are testing positive every day. Vaccination rates have stalled. Parties and events and conferences are still being canceled. More than 1,000 people are dying everyday. Even the vaccinated are getting sick.

What are we to do? Well, a group of pandemic experts has a brand-new plan for America. 

Many of experts who authored the series of articles that published Thursday in the medical journal JAMA outlining a new national strategy have been advisers to President Joe Biden in the past.

They include Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who runs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania; and Dr. Rick Bright, a former government official who is running a pandemic prevention program at the Rockefeller Foundation.

They argue that the goal is not to eradicate SARS-CoV-2 but to live with it — and other viruses.

“Without a strategic plan for the ‘new normal’ with endemic COVID-19, more people in the U.S. will unnecessarily experience morbidity and mortality, health inequities will widen, and trillions will be lost from the U.S. economy,” they wrote. “This time, the nation must learn and prepare effectively for the future.”

Here is some of what they are recommending:

• Better testing: All people in the U.S. need access to free or low-cost at-home tests that can help determine whether someone is infected and infectious. The Biden administration’s plan to begin sending out 500 million at-home rapid tests is a good first step, they say.

• Better surveillance: This means a nationwide tracking system evaluating wastewater and air as well as the emergence of new variants, among other trends. “Two years into the pandemic, the U.S. is still heavily reliant on data from Israel and the U.K. for assessing the effectiveness and durability of COVID-19 vaccines and rate of vaccine breakthrough infections,” they wrote.

• Better mitigation: The U.S. needs to encourage people to use N95 or KN95 masks, upgrade or replace ventilation and air-filtration systems, and ensure paid sick and family medical leave for all workers, they wrote.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday that neither she nor the president had yet read the articles.

Other COVID-19 news you should be aware of: 

• People are most likely going to need another COVID-19 booster sometime this year, according to remarks made this week by Moderna MRNA, -1.02% CEO Stéphane Bancel. Bancel, speaking to a group of investors at a Goldman Sachs healthcare conference this week, said he expects that a fourth shot will be needed in the fall.

• If the last month hasn’t been confusing enough, medical experts are now debating whether you should swab your throat in addition to your nose when you are using an at-home COVID-19 test, according to the Washington Post. Some experts say swabbing the throat increases your chances of catching an omicron infection; others say that’s not what the tests were designed for. 

• A National Institutes of Health study found that getting one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can temporarily increase a woman’s menstrual cycle by about one day. The research, published Thursday in Obstetrics & Gynecology, was based on de-identified data from 3,959 vaccinated and unvaccinated participants using a fertility tracking app. It found that the length of a women’s cycle increased, though vaccination did not increase the number of days of menstrual bleeding. Most of the participants in the study had received the mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech BNTX, -1.35% and Pfizer PFE, +1.60% or Moderna. 

• Dr. Francis Collins, the former NIH director, who identifies as an evangelical, is trying to encourage other evangelicals who have not been vaccinated to consider doing so, according to STAT. Polls indicate that about one-third of white evangelicals are refusing to get a COVID-19 shot. Collins made a video that he says may “influence decision making for people who might be hesitant about vaccines on the basis of their faith.”

• The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that adults who have been vaccinated with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine can get a booster dose five months after completing the primary series of shots. The previous recommendation was to wait six months. The suggested window between getting BioNTech’s and Pfizer’s booster was recently shortened to five months from six months. “Today’s action also brings consistency in the timing for administration of a booster dose among the available mRNA vaccines,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

What the numbers say

The U.S. reported 727,863 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday; the seven-day average for daily cases has increased every day since Dec. 15, to 610,989 on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s up 227% from two weeks ago. 

About 128,000 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, and the seven-day average for COVID-19–related hospitalizations was 116,029 on Thursday. On Thursday, 1,843 people died from COVID-19. The daily average for COVID-19–related deaths rose 2% from two weeks ago to 1,404, the most since Oct. 26. 

The number of fully vaccinated Americans ticked up to 207.1 million, or 62.4% of the population, while nearly 73 million people, or 35.3% of the population have been boosted, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data

Tomi Kilgore contributed.

Read on: 3 key takeaways from the Supreme Court showdown over the vaccine-or-test rule for businesses

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