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Your boss is asking you to come back to the office even though they don’t know if COVID is really over

Labor Day marks the end of the era of completely working from home for many US workers, with companies including Apple, Comcast and Peloton asked to return to the office after a long holiday weekend.

The unwritten premise behind the ordinance is that the COVID pandemic as we know it is over – or at least a shadow of what it used to be.

But public health experts say many Americans – and their bosses – are making optimistic assumptions about what the rest of the year will look like that aren’t based on science. The fact that the virus probably won’t go away anytime soon and the severity of the next COVID wave remains a mystery.

“Any modeling done more than three to four weeks in advance is meaningless,” says Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Luck. He added that anyone who says otherwise “may want to sell you a bridge.

“We have so little experience with coronaviruses and how they play out,” he said. “We’re in a limbo right now.”

Damn COVID — bosses want employees back in the office

Last year was filled with unsuccessful return-to-office deadlines.

Some US companies have planned for Labor Day to return in 2021, but The Delta variant has canceled those plans. Early 2022 is the next target, until Omicron has also postponed those plans.

More recent announcements about ending remote work have eliminated COVID entirely. Apple recently set a September 5 deadline for employees to return to work at least three days a week but did not provide a COVID-related explanation as to why, such as the virus likely outbreak.

And a Remember board are from Comcast CEO Dave Watson mentioned the importance of face-to-face collaboration in innovation, but said nothing about COVID other than stating that vaccines are not needed and asking employees to work from home or take time off when they are sick, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer and other sources.

Although there were some Notable uprisingsIt seems that workers with employers who don’t want to bring them back to the office are being forced to leave their work remotely — whether the virus is cooperative or not.

But bosses can be forgiven for assuming the pandemic is nearing an end. The White House and the World Health Organization have recently released statements that some experts consider overly optimistic.

Global COVID deaths are at their lowest level since March 2020, prompting the head of the World Health Organization Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to say this week declare that the world has “never been in a better position to end the pandemic”.

“We are not there yet,” Ghebreyesus said. “But it’s finally in sight.”

And earlier this month, the White House appeared to have turned away from a dire forecast it issued in May that forecast a fall/winter wave. up to 100 million cases of COVID—More than the country’s total recorded to date — and the potential for a massive wave of deaths.

At a press conference September 6, Dr Ashish Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator, said that science has “catch up with the virus“And an annual COVID booster — similar to the annual flu shot — is likely in the near future.

But other public health experts are not so optimistic.

“That could be a scenario,” said CIDRAP’s Osterholm. “Another possible scenario is that we do, in fact, see a new variant emerge that is able to evade immune protection, being more infectious.”

Aside from COVID-19, the SARS and MERS outbreaks of the early 2000s, scientists have very little experience with coronaviruses — and there’s no reason to say one scenario is more likely than the other, he said.

“What we don’t want to do is provide comfortable and easy answers to the public because we think that’s what they want,” he said.

Trouble with forecasting

In 2020, the idea of ​​forecasting a virus like a weather forecast is a novel idea. Bad virus “weather” coming? Wear a mask as well as you can wear a raincoat if there is a storm.

But there’s a reason why forecasts are only coming out for the next few days — or in the case of COVID, weeks, experts say.

“We are already very good at predicting what the pandemic will look like three, four, five weeks from now,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunization at the University of California, Berkeley. speak Luck.

“Beyond now – and certainly beyond six weeks from now – the accuracy of predictions drops dramatically,” he added. “You have two to three months out, and it’s almost like flipping a coin.”

Elizabeth Carlton, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and a member of the state’s COVID-19 modeling team, the terms forecasting and modeling are often used interchangeably. The COVID forecast predicts conditions in the near term — the next two to four weeks. However, forecasts are longer-term and require scientists to make assumptions.

As a result, any COVID forecast beyond a few weeks — like the dire White House fall and winter predictions released this spring — is based on conjecture and utter uncertainty.

A best effort to look ahead

Short-term US COVID forecasts in the US are mostly positive.

“Most scenarios indicate that hospitalization rates for COVID-19 infection will be similar to current rates or decrease slowly over the next several weeks,” the CDC said. Luck in the first day of this month.

In addition, other public health authorities are also careful to highlight uncertainty in their predictions about what will happen in the next few months.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 response at the World Health Organization, said Luck This week, “continued” COVID waves are expected, though she added that providing a more specific picture is currently not possible.

Carlton believes there’s reason to be hopeful this holiday season — let’s hope with the “giant asterisk.”

On an individual level, a person’s risk of contracting COVID is “lower than it has been,” she said, especially when using the new Omicron boosters.

While now is not the time to be wind cautious and personal precautions should continue, “I think there are some good reasons for letting your hair down,” she added.

“This is not the flu — we have lost more than 200,000 people this year to COVID,” she said. “During the bad flu years, we lost tens of thousands of people. But we are not where we were a few years ago.”

But it’s not the time for disaster preparedness and public health officials to let off steam, Carlton noted.

When it comes to the world’s next wave of COVID — and there will be another, experts say — the virus is holding its cards. Most experts Luck spoke to subvariants named BA.4.6 and BA.2.75 as potential variants worth keeping an eye on this fall and winter. However, not a single variant is currently raising serious signs.

Little is known about the Omicron reproductive twin — including how severe the symptoms are and whether they can evade immunity from even the new Omicron boosters. Both show the ability, at least in some places, to compete with globally dominant BA.5 — though neither has made rapid progress so far.

Because some variants like BA.2.75, also known as CentaurusHaving made slow progress in the face of BA.5, Osterholm said, they must have some advantage over it when it comes to transmission capacity.

But he added that a “sense of humility” is most needed as the US faces another COVID winter.

“For all we know, a Pi or Sigma could emerge, replacing Omicron,” he said.

An unpredictable virus

Viruses aren’t always so difficult to predict. In the days leading up to the pandemic, a variant that hit the UK hard often had a similar impact on the US a few weeks later.

Currently, however, the virus is breeding so many subspecies in so many different locations that it is difficult to identify any one of them in any given region and predict whether it will head to the US or not. no, Carlton said.

With BA.5 seemingly falling to a relatively low high of 60,000 new cases are reported every dayIt’s easy to interpret the lull in waves as the end of the pandemic, says Swarztberg.

But we’ve come to that conclusion before – not exactly that – and we keep doing it. It’s what Carlton and other experts call a “fear-fatigue” cycle or a “panic-abandon” cycle, both of which lead to a lack of proactive anticipation and response. includes too little action, too late.

Last year, the US was in good shape at the end of September, October and November, said Swarztberg.

“But then we saw a new variant called Omicron in South Africa,” he said. “Within three weeks, it was here.”

Osterholm said past epidemic coronaviruses SARS and MERS, while less contagious, were much more deadly, with mortality rates ranging from 20% to 30%, compared with COVID-19 of less than 1. %, Osterholm said.

But it is possible, he thinks, that COVID-19 eventually evolved to develop the lethality of SARS and MERS while maintaining its characteristic transmissibility.

Even if such a scenario never plays out, COVID is now the fourth leading cause of death in the country – a fact we’ve been talking about as a whole, according to Osterholm.

“The same number three years ago would have been the ‘house on fire’ moment,” he said.

“The question is will that number continue to decrease, like a soft landing? Keep stable? Is there a possibility to return by climbing? We just don’t know.”

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