Updated
November 23, 2022

The COVID pandemic is over, so we don’t have to worry anymore.

Quick Fact
In a 60 Minutes interview on Sept. 18, 2022, President Joe Biden said, "We're still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over." Some agreed and some disagreed with the President, depending on how they defined “over.” Common measures that determine if a pandemic is over are cases and hospitalizations, availability of treatments and vaccines, and whether policy is being created to address the disease. As of Sept. 21, 2022, the average daily U.S. cases in a 7-day period was almost 55,000 cases and the average daily hospitalizations in a 7-day period was almost 4,000 hospitalizations. There are 8 authorized treatments and 4 authorized primary series vaccines for COVID-19. Many policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been revoked, such as mask mandates and travel restrictions.
What we know
  1. The World Health Organization still considers COVID-19 to be a pandemic. The WHO has an 18-member committee that judges emergencies like pandemics based on whether they spread internationally, require international action, and are serious, sudden, and unexpected.
  2. There are legal, behavioral, and financial consequences to declaring whether a pandemic has ended. For instance, pharmaceutical companies may have signed agreements that make their vaccines, tests, and treatments available at lower cost until a pandemic is over. Funding for health programs, research, and services may end or be reduced when a pandemic is over. Policies to prevent disease spread may be dropped or not enforced once a pandemic has ended.
  3. The number of new cases and hospitalizations in a given time is one way to judge if a pandemic is over. This is how public health professionals judge whether a pandemic is over and whether a virus is endemic. The word “endemic” is sometimes described in news articles as COVID becoming “part of everyday life.” However, endemic is a scientific word meaning that in a given time period, the amount of virus in a population is the same as the amount expected. It requires information about what the typical number of cases and hospitalizations is in a population over time. For instance, even though some people continue to get sick from the H1N1 strain of flu each year, the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 was declared to be over in 2010 because it went back to well-established typical levels. COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still seeing spikes in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, so scientists do not yet have enough information to determine what is a typical level of COVID-19. As of Sept. 21, 2022, the average daily number of US cases in a 7-day period was almost 55,000 and the average daily number of hospitalizations in a 7-day period was almost 4,000.
  4. The availability of vaccines and treatments is another way to judge if a pandemic is over. The good news is that there are 8 authorized treatments and 4 authorized primary series vaccines available for COVID-19 in the U.S. However, many low and middle-income countries do not yet have access to these vaccines and treatments.
  5. Whether there are policies that govern how people must respond to a disease is another way to judge whether a pandemic is over. Many U.S. policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been revoked such as mask mandates and travel restrictions. CDC continues to strongly recommend taking steps to prevent COVID-19 such as wearing a mask, staying home if ill, and increasing one’s distance from other people in indoor spaces.
  6. COVID-19 continues to be a concern and cause serious illness. COVID is the third leading cause of death in the US. Many people continue to be hospitalized and get seriously ill from COVID-19. Workplaces and schools continue to have trouble with staff and students falling ill and not being able to work or attend school. Many people who have long-COVID continue to experience symptoms that interfere with everyday activities.
What we are learning
  • Scientists are still learning the typical number of new COVID cases and hospitalizations in a given time period. This information is needed to determine whether COVID is endemic. It is also needed so we can plan programs that can prevent new outbreaks.
  • It is not clear how long policies governing the COVID response will be in place. Some policies like mask mandates have been removed. Funding for the public health response to COVID-19 such as at-home test kits and vaccine clinics has declined. Other policies like funding for COVID-19 research and insurance mandates for COVID-19 related treatments may change and vary by institution. Travel policies such as requiring proof of vaccination or negative test results may change and vary by country.
Fact Sources:

The new Omicron-specific COVID booster is approved for children ages 5 and up

Quick Fact
On October 12, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration approved bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccines (providing protection for the original coronavirus strain and two Omicron subvariants) for individuals ages 5 and over. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for those 5 and over, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for those 6 and over (CDC).
What we know
  1. Following the FDA’s updated approval of the new bivalent COVID-19 booster, the CDC expanded its recommendations on the booster for children ages 5 to 17 (the bivalent booster had already been approved and recommended for individuals over the age of 17).  
  2. The Pfizer-BioNTech booster vaccine is approved for those 5 and over, while the Moderna booster is approved for those 6 and over (CDC). Individuals can receive the booster if they are at least 8 weeks (2 months) out from their last booster shot or infection with COVID-19 (CDC). 
  3. The Omicron-specific bivalent booster adds components of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants to the existing booster against the original novel coronavirus.  
  4. Bivalent boosters are now widely available in the St. Louis community (KSDK). 
What we are learning
  • None of the existing COVID-19 boosters are recommended for children ages 6 months to 5 years at this time (CDC); rather, the original dose series is recommended for this age group. The CDC will update guidance on COVID-19 vaccines for this age group as information becomes available.  
Fact Sources:

There is radioactive waste at a St. Louis elementary school.

Quick Fact
Radioactive materials were detected in dust samples at Jana Elementary School in Florissant, MO. While we are all exposed to low levels of radiation every day from many sources, the levels of radiation at the school were found to be much higher than is considered safe. Inhaling or ingesting these materials is harmful to health because they can damage cells in the body. Environmental contamination clean-up groups have been working on a remedial plan to protect community members by removing the materials or preventing people in the area from being exposed to large amounts of the materials.
What we know
  1. Jana Elementary school is in the floodplain of Coldwater Creek, a creek known to contain nuclear waste left from the production of nuclear weapons during World War II.
  2. There are concerns that when the creek floods, nuclear wastes in the water spread with it, moving out of the creek and into surrounding areas. Coldwater Creek flooded in July.
  3. The US Army Corps of Engineers has been monitoring levels of radioactive materials on the creek banks at the perimeters of Jana Elementary School since 2018.
  4. Two law firms representing residents in contaminated areas hired Boston Chemical Data Corp. to test for radioactive waste inside and immediately around the school.
  5. On October 10, Boston Chemical Data Corp. released a report that found unsafe levels of contaminants inside the school. Samples were taken from the school's kitchen, library, and heating/ventilation system, as well as classrooms and playground areas.
  6. The US Army Corps of Engineers is conducting its own study of contamination within the school.
  7. Students are currently learning remotely.
What we are learning
  • The school is being tested again by the US Army Corps of Engineers to help determine the risk to staff and students.
  • The risk of exposure to students at the school is unclear
  • The dose of radioactive materials, length of exposure, and how the exposure happened are important in determining if negative effects will occur. We are still learning what this looks like for Jana Elementary.
Fact Sources:

Content coming soon!

Life expectancy in the U.S. is falling

Quick Fact
The overall US life expectancy at birth has fallen for two years in a row. From 2019 to 2020, US life expectancy dropped from 78.8 to 77.0 years. From 2020 to 2021, US life expectancy is estimated to have dropped from 77.0 years to 76.1 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven these declines. Accidents/unintentional deaths from suicides and drug overdoses have also contributed.
What we know
  1. Life expectancy at birth is the average number of years a newborn can expect to live if current mortality patterns stay the same throughout their life. Life expectancy is calculated by looking at survival and death rates for each age group using birth and death certificates. The National Center for Health Statistics oversees these records and calculates the official US life expectancy each year.
  2. The average US life expectancy at birth fell sharply in the past two years. The average US life expectancy rose from 1994 to 2019. It only fell twice by less than 0.3 years each time during this time. From 2019 to 2021 it is estimated to have fallen by 2.7 years. The current estimated US life expectancy is 76.1 years, which is the lowest it has been since 1996.
  3. Health conditions/events that kill many people and that kill many young people decrease life expectancy. COVID-19 has contributed the most to the decline in average US life expectancy at birth. COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020. Unintentional injuries, heart disease, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and suicide have also contributed.
  4. Life expectancy looks different for different groups of people. Life expectancy is higher for females than males. In 2021, females had an average life expectancy at birth of 79.1 years versus 73.2 years for males. In 2021, Hispanic (77.7 years), Asian (83.5 years), and White (76.4 years) racial groups had higher life expectancies than the average US life expectancy. American Indian and Alaskan Native (65.2 years) and Black (70.8 years) racial groups had lower than the average US life expectancy. Life expectancy is generally higher in northern and coastal states while it is lower in southern states.
  5. Declines in life expectancy were sharper among some groups of people than others. From 2019 – 2021, life expectancy declined more for men than women. Life expectancy declined the most among the American Indian and Alaskan Native racial group. From 2019 – 2020, life expectancy declined the most in southern states and states with large cities.
  6. There are actions we can take as a society to increase life expectancy and decrease mortality. COVID-19 vaccination and other prevention measures can reduce the toll COVID-19 takes on communities. Addressing social and systemic causes of disease like access to healthcare, education, and financial well-being are other ways to improve life expectancy.
What we are learning
  • Birth and death statistics are not finalized until at least 6 months after the start of the new year to give time for processing late records. This means that the 2021 estimates for life expectancy are preliminary, but close to what we expect the final estimates to be for 2021.
  • There are many causes of disease, and we are still learning how they may impact one another. We are also still learning how to intervene to prevent some causes of death.
  • We are still learning about the effects of COVID-19 on health, including the effects of long COVID.
Fact Sources:

Researchers are learning more about Long COVID

Quick Fact
Some people continue to experience symptoms of COVID-19 weeks, months, or years after their first infection. This is known as Long COVID. Researchers are analyzing multiple data to learn more about Long COVID. Current evidence suggests that unvaccinated people are at a higher risk of long COVID than people who get infected after vaccination.
What we know
  1. Long COVID or Post-COVID conditions (PCC) are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people continue to experience after their first COVID-19 infection. About 1 in 5 adults have been diagnosed with long COVID in the US. They have reported issues like kidney failure, heart, respiratory, neurological, and mental health conditions. These problems can last weeks or even years.
  2. Although anyone who has ever been infected with COVID-19 can develop long COVID, it is mostly found among people who have had severe COVID-19 illness when infected. Also, unvaccinated people infected with COVID-19 may be at a higher risk of developing long COVID than vaccinated people who test positive.
  3. There is currently no specific test for long COVID because the symptoms are similar to that of other health conditions. However, healthcare providers usually consider if a person has a history of COVID-19, and they also clinically assess patients to determine if they have long COVID. Please reach out to your healthcare provider if you think you may be experiencing long COVID.
What we are learning
  • Researchers are using advanced technological methods like machine learning to further identify specific sub-groups of people at a higher risk of long COVID.
Fact Sources:

There is radioactive waste at a St. Louis elementary school.

Quick Fact
Pediatricians in the St. Louis area have reported that the number of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases they are seeing is unusually high for this time of year. Rate increases are typically seen in the colder winter months of December and January (KSDK). According to CDC data, cases have been rising nationwide since June (CDC). RSV is a virus that causes infections in the respiratory tract and can have worse outcomes among infants and young children. It is a common virus that can infect individuals of all ages, but the worst outcomes occur among newborns and can require hospitalization (CDC)
What we know
  1. RSV typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and in children. In rare cases, it can cause more severe symptoms among infants and children under 5, which may require hospitalization. Approximately 58,000 children are hospitalized for RSV each year (CDC).
  2. Parents should seek medical attention for their child if the child is having symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
  3. The CDC is currently reporting heightened rates of RSV, and hospitals are seeing higher rates of children admitted with RSV-related symptoms.
  4. Children’s hospital beds around the country are filling up due to the increase in RSV cases. The most recent government data indicate that 75% of hospital beds are currently filled (NPR, Washington Post).
  5. The exact reasons for this unusually early spike in cases are not known. Scientists suggest it is in part because of an “immunity gap”: with COVID protective measures in place the last two winters, fewer people were exposed to RSV, and are now encountering it for the first time (NPR). The resulting illness from infection is worst the first-time individuals come into contact with it, suggesting that children who have not had contact with RSV over the last year are experiencing heightened symptoms this season.
  6. The best way to protect yourself and your family from these respiratory infectious diseases is to receive the flu shot and make sure you are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.
What we are learning
  1. Cases of RSV are increasing at the same time as flu rates are rising and researchers expect a winter spike in COVID-19 cases. Researchers and physicians are warning of the possibility of a “triple-demic” of COVID-19, flu, and RSV this winter (CBS News).
Fact Sources: