Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired an interview with President Joe Biden in which he declared the pandemic is “over.”
“The pandemic is over,” Biden said, while walking through the Detroit Auto Show with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over. If you notice, nobody’s wearing masks, everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.”
Most of the debate and dissection of this interview has focused on Biden’s statement that the “pandemic is over.” Is it, actually? (Epidemiologists say no.) Does he have the authority to declare it over? (No, that’s a job for the WHO.) Was his statement just reflecting what most Americans are already thinking? (Depends on who you call “most Americans.”)
See, I think the key part of Biden’s quote here actually comes at the end: “everybody seems to be in pretty good shape.” Seems to be is doing a lot of work here. In the interview, Biden is strolling through the auto show, through groups of unmasked people looking at car exhibits.
He is not actually talking to these bystanders, asking them whether they’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19, lost work during the pandemic, or faced any lingering symptoms after catching the virus themselves. Biden also isn’t considering the people who were excluded from this auto show: the Americans who were left disabled with Long COVID, and those still taking safety precautions due to other health conditions.
Images of the auto show, like those of packed indoor restaurants or maskless stadiums, seem to suggest that, yeah, Americans no longer care about COVID-19. But there are plenty of other images that don’t make it into high-profile media settings like Biden’s interview.
Today, I invite you to consider a few of the images that Biden isn’t seeing. Here are 12 statistics showing how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a massive impact on Americans:
- At least 400 Americans are dying with COVID-19 every day, about 47,000 deaths total between June and September 2022. Daily death data tend to be underestimates, because it can take weeks to process death certificates (and numbers are often retroactively edited up). But we can still see that hundreds of people are dying each day. As Sarah Zhang points out in The Atlantic, this is several times the threshold experts set in early 2021 for calling the pandemic at an end.
- About 25,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 cases. Yes, many of the people included in this statistic probably entered the hospital for another reason, then tested positive as part of routine screening. But incidental coronavirus infections still put pressure on the hospitals caring for these patients, and can intersect with a wide variety of other health conditions, potentially causing long-term issues for patients.
- About 7.6% of adults are currently experiencing some form of Long COVID, as of early August. This estimate, which I pulled from the Census and CDC’s Household Pulse Survey, rises for certain demographics: almost 10% of women, 11% of transgender adults, 11% of adults with less than a high school diploma, and 15% of adults with a disability are currently experiencing Long COVID.
- Hundreds of Long COVID and ME/CFS patients protested at the White House and online on Monday. Biden’s statement coincidentally landed the night before a planned protest, in which patient-advocates called for the president to declare a national emergency around Long COVID and ME/CFS. The protest was covered in the New York Times, MedPage Today, the BMJ, and other outlets.
- 19 patients, patient-advocates, and experts testified at a New York City Council hearing about Long COVID and gender on Thursday. Long COVID patients and those with related conditions (like ME/CFS and HIV) talked about dismissals from doctors and inability to return to their pre-COVID lives. They called for more comprehensive medical care and other forms of financial and social support for patients. I covered the hearing for Gothamist/WNYC.
- About 2.5 million adults were recently out of work due to a COVID-19 case, either because they were sick themselves or were caring for a sick person. Another 1.6 million adults were out of work due to concern about getting or spreading COVID-19. These statistics come from the most recent iteration of the Household Pulse Survey, conducted from July 27 to August 8, 2022.
- About 2.2 million adults were recently laid off or furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another one million had their employers go out of business due to the pandemic, and 900,000 had their employers close temporarily due to COVID-19. These data are from the same Household Pulse Survey.
- Over 50 million adults experienced symptoms of anxiety for at least half the days in the last two weeks, at the time of the most recent Household Pulse Survey. Almost 40 million adults experienced symptoms of depression for at least half the days in the same two-week period.
- Over 80% of Americans still support the federal government providing free COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests to anyone who needs them, according to an Axios-Ipsos poll conducted in early September. A past iteration of that poll, from March 2022, found that 74% of Americans reported they were “likely to wear a mask outside the home if COVID-19 cases surge again in their area.”
- About 3% of Americans, or around 12 million people, are immunocompromised and still have reason to take intense COVID-19 precautions. Immunocompromised people have been eligible for extra vaccine doses, but are still more vulnerable to both severe COVID-19 symptoms and Long COVID.
- Over one million seniors live in nursing homes, and almost one million more live in assisted living and other forms of long-term care facilities. Seniors in long-term care have represented a hugely disproportionate share of deaths from COVID-19, and the CDC just made its mask recommendations for these facilities much more lenient—putting many vulnerable adults at risk.
- 2.5 billion people worldwide still haven’t been vaccinated, according to estimates from Our World in Data. Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker estimates that, at the current pace of first doses administered, it will take another 10 months for just 75% of the global population to have received at least one COVID-19 shot. As long as COVID-19 continues to spread anywhere in the world, new variants can be a threat everywhere.