Defining when, exactly, the COVID-19 pandemic is “over” will not be easy or clear cut. Experts agree that a “return” to normal post-COVID life is unlikely to manifest itself as a concrete moment in time, especially when compared to the abruptness of the pandemic’s onset. The complete eradication of the disease is also unlikely, most scientists agree.
“In the best-case scenario,” science writer Sarah Zhang wrote in an August 2020 Atlantic article, “a vaccine and better treatments blunt COVID-19’s severity, making it a much less dangerous and less disruptive disease.” Ideally, she continued, “SARS-CoV-2 becomes just another seasonal respiratory virus” over time.
This amorphous and uncertain timeline presents a challenge for public health officials, according to Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a fellow at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, “because it presents a more complicated calculus of what people should be doing in their behavior.” Nowhere was this challenge more evident than the streets of Miami, Florida, in late March 2021.
It was there, in front of several revelers, that an American flag-waving man dressed as the Joker character from “Batman” declared that “COVID is over, baby!” while “making it rain” dollar bills:
— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) March 20, 2021
For several reasons, COVID is not “over.”
Apart from the fact that the disease is still killing over 8,000 people a day globally, the world population is far from containing the virus’ spread.
Stemming the transmission of the virus is still vitally important even if you yourself have been vaccinated. “Everyone — even those who are vaccinated — should continue with all mitigation strategies when in public settings,” the Centers for Disease Control’s Rochelle Walensky told the Wall Street Journal in March 2021. With only about 13% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated at the time of this reporting, such gatherings still provide ample opportunities for the virus to spread amongst the unvaccinated and infect individuals.
Outside of a personal desire to avoid contracting COVID-19, there are large-scale epidemiological reasons to keep up our guard collectively. On a population level, according to Sara Del Valle, a computational epidemiologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the longer it takes us to stem or blunt transmission of the virus, the more time variants of the virus will have to develop and spread. These variants could be harder to knock out with the current vaccines in use. “We’re in a race with the new variants,” she said in a March 2021 Nature feature.
Because the virus is not contained in any sense of that word, and because only 13% of Americans are fully vaccinated, the Joker’s assertion that COVID is “over” is “False.”