More than 2,000 people are still dying from COVID-19, on average, every day.
Deaths are a lagging indicator; as for COVID cases, there are signs of hope in the U.S. as they're down in nearly every state.
Here's the latest from Johns Hopkins University, showing the numbers dropping off after the Omicron peak. That's leading some parts of the country to consider easing mask mandates. Denver just ended its indoor mask rule altogether.
While health experts are happy with the decline in new cases, some top doctors are stopping short of saying this pandemic is close to becoming an endemic.
"The definition of an endemic is when there are relatively a moderate levels of disease in a population that have reached an equilibrium," said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at GW School of Medicine & Health Sciences. "So, we're right now dropping rapidly, we've had all these spikes, and we've yet to see whether there will be another surge after this one. So, I think it's too premature to call this the beginning of sort of the endemic stage of of this virus."
Also, Pfizer is asking the Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use authorization for its COVID vaccine for most children under the age of 5. If and when federal agencies sign off, kids who are at least six months old would be eligible.
"Children are not immune to COVID," said Dr. Stanley Spinner, chief medical officer and vice president at Texas Children's Pediatrics. "They hear constantly that it's a benign disease or a mild disease in children, and fortunately for most, that's true. But we've had tens of thousands of children hospitalized due to COVID, well over 1,000 unfortunately have died, and about a third of those in that younger than 5-year-old age population that up until now haven't been able to be protected."
Dr. Saju Mathew, a primary care physician and public health specialist in Atlanta, joins Newsy's Jay Strubberg to discuss.
JAY STRUBBERG: Doctor, thank you so much for your time. Now, many parents are waiting to see if and when Pfizer's vaccine will be available for most kids under the age of 5. The company has requested an emergency use authorization. So, what should parents know about this? And do you have any reservations at all about giving the shots to this young age group?
DR. SAJU MATHEW: Absolutely not, I think that this has definitely been long in the waiting. I think that young, anxious parents have been waiting for this for a long time now. We'll have an answer. The question is going to be, you know, is the data going to be safe for kids? How exactly is it going to be a two-shot vaccine or a three-shot vaccine? We'll find out more about this, but I think the FDA is going to go ahead and present the data, CDC will look at it and they'll give a final approval. But I think this is absolutely good news.
STRUBBERG: We've been hearing for a couple of weeks a more optimistic outlook from some medical professionals about getting past this Omicron surge, which appears to be fading a bit right now. So, what's your take overall in the state of the pandemic? And is it time to start easing up on restrictions like, say, mask mandates, since the cases are declining?
MATHEW: I'm definitely excited. I definitely think that there is some glimmer of hope. Cases are coming down, even though from a very high level, we're still plateauing at a high level and the deaths are coming down as well, which is a lagging indicator.
However, I still think that community transmission in most states is pretty high, and I'm one of those medical analysts that says we need to just wait, make sure the cases come down and stay down, but most importantly, we need to look at the hospitalization. What exactly are the number of hospitalizations for COVID in each city?
So, to answer your question about mask mandates, I still think we need to keep the mask mandate, especially for people that are unvaccinated. They need to continue to wear masks, especially in indoor settings and crowded areas.
STRUBBERG: So, the CDC said this week unvaccinated adults have 97 times greater risk of dying from COVID than adults who are fully vaccinated and boosted. So, with so much misinformation about them, how do you get through to people who are unwilling to get the shots? Or is it a lost cause at this point?
MATHEW: I don't think it's a lost cause. I'm a primary care physician, I see about 20 patients a day and I try this with every single patient that I see because I feel like if I can convince one person who is a fence-sitter, they can go out and influence so many people. That number that you just mentioned a 97% chance of dying if you're not vaccinated and boosted, I share that information.
I share information about patients who are on ventilators that refuse to get vaccinated. I have a 50-somewhat-old patient in great shape, a runner, who is now fighting for his life on a ventilator, leaving a wife and kids just worrying whether he might make it.
So, I share information like that, and I tell people, listen, it's like wearing a vest, a vaccine is not 100%, but if you get a infection, a breakthrough infection, you are still going to be protected significantly from death and dying.
STRUBBERG: What do you hear from the unvaccinated people that you treat? Do they have any regret about not getting the shots? Are they standing by their decision?
MATHEW: So, this is the problem, right? When I see the patient at work and they're like, 'Hey, Dr. Mathew, I have survived this pandemic for two years, why should I get it? Or if I get it, it's just going to be a cold,' now those are going to be the difficult ones. Unfortunately, you don't want to learn from a mistake that you make. At that point, it's too late, and I think there's still a lot of misinformation.
Guess what? 80 million people are still not getting boosted, these are people that were anxious to get vaccinated, that they're refusing to get boosted, so, we have to work on that population.
I think its pandemic fatigue, people thinking 'is it going to be a booster after booster?' But I think it's our job as primary care physicians is to keep trying and sharing the information that if you're vaccinated and protected, you are not going to go into the hospital and die, and that's what you want from a vaccine.
STRUBBERG: The science just clearly says the need for boosters is clearly there. Dr. Saju Mathew, thank you so much for your time and insight.