The new Covid equilibrium

Many people have stopped keeping track of where Covid is headed, if only because it is such a stressful and unpleasant topic.  To be clear, under current circumstances I favor complete “Covid laissez-faire,” though with subsidies for new and better vaccines.  Overall, things are not so peachy keen (NYT):

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa…

“If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “I would be very surprised if that’s not how it’s going to play out.”

I know many of you like to say “No worse than the common cold!”  Well, the thing is…the common cold imposes considerable costs on the world.  Imagine a new common cold, which you catch a few times a year, with some sliver of the population getting some form of Long Covid.  One 2003 estimate suggested that the common cold costs us $40 billion a year, and in a typical year I don’t get a cold even once.  That 2003 estimate also does not include the sheer discomfort of having a cold.

With a pinch of Long Covid in the distribution surely the current virus is a wee bit worse than that?  While many cases of Long Covid are malingerers and hypochondriacs, at this point it is clear that not all of them are.  Toss in some number of immunocompromised individuals (how many?).

Even under mild conceptions of current Covid, it is entirely plausible to believe that the costs of Covid will run into the trillions over the next ten years.

Death rates are not up, but more of the unvaccinated will die off with time and the rest of us will face this steady risk and planning annoyance for — how long?  Plus we’ll get lots of “colds,” some of them considerably worse than a cold.  And with what risk that it might mutate again and get worse? The next generation of vaccines probably will not be directly subsidized.  Which will mean much lower rates of uptake.  The point of maximum Covid immunity may well be behind us.  And you won’t be able to blame it all on lockdowns.

Please keep in mind that when it comes to your reactions I will read many of them as not much better than “I just don’t want to think about this, I am still in denial.”


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