Officials with the World Health Organization shared an optimistic outlook for COVID-19 on Wednesday, saying an end to the pandemic that has claimed millions of lives “is in sight.”
The comments came from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press briefing in Geneva, where he pointed out the number of global reported deaths from COVID-19 last week was just over 11,000, the lowest total since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.
"We are not there yet, but the end is in sight," he said.
"Now is the worst time to stop running," he added. "Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap all the rewards of our hard work."
WHAT TO KNOW
- The head of the World Health Organization expressed hope that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is “in sight,” citing the lowest number of reported deaths since the start of the pandemic.
- Health experts on Long Island expressed cautious optimism about the slowing pandemic, saying getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 is the best defense against severe illness and death.
- The WHO urged local governments to strengthen their efforts against COVID-19 ahead of any possible winter surge or emergence of new variants.
Health experts on Long Island said there is reason to remain hopeful that the worst days of the pandemic are behind us, but warned about the risks of complacency and urged people to stay up to date with vaccines and boosters.
“I think that there is a chance that we're reaching a different place in the epidemic and it's something we are all going to have to figure out how to deal with it going forward,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside. “It’s not something that’s going to go away in the sense that we will never see it again.”
According to the WHO, there have been more than 607 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 6.5 million deaths from the disease across the world since the pandemic first hit in early 2020.
But officials said the 3.1 million new cases reported last week represented a drop of 28%, continuing a weekslong decline in the disease in every part of the world.
In New York State, there have been more than 5.9 million cases of COVID-19 reported, including 491,795 in Nassau County and 507,897 in Suffolk County, since the start of 2020, according to the state Department of Health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show there have been over 73,000 fatalities due to COVID-19 in New York to date.
The peaks in the death count mirror the surges that have taken place throughout the course of the pandemic so far.
There were 486 new COVID-19 deaths reported nationally on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and 17 in New York. Back on April 21, 2020, there were over 2,600 deaths reported across the United States on that one day and more than 4,000 in the U.S. on Jan. 13, 2021, according to the CDC.
Experts say a combination of factors have led to a decrease in deaths from COVID-19 over time, including the availability of the vaccine, improved treatments and less-virulent variants of the disease.
Now that almost all masking and social distancing requirements have been discontinued, getting the COVID-19 vaccine and updated boosters is more important than ever, according to Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of public health and epidemiology for Northwell Health.
“We all know the rates are down and in the United States we've gotten fairly comfortable with going back to almost normal life,” Farber said. “My only concern, before we totally celebrate, is that basically everybody's given up all mitigation policies. And the only one that's really remaining that we have to rely on is the vaccine.”
Farber said not enough people are seeking out the newly authorized and updated COVID-19 booster, which helps protect against the currently dominant omicron subvariants circulating in the region and across the country.
According to the CDC, about 48.6% of people in the United States have gotten their first booster shot.
Farber also noted the low vaccination rates among young children. State figures show only 38.5% of children ages 5 to 11 in New York have completed their vaccine series.
“I think things are good and a lot of people have a baseline immunity,” Farber said. “I don't think that people are going to get nearly as sick, barring a totally new variant, but I think it's premature to say that it's over particularly as schools are opening, more people will be indoors in the cold weather and we approach the flu season.”
WHO officials also warned that relaxed COVID testing and surveillance in many countries means that many cases are going unnoticed. The agency urged governments to strengthen their efforts against the coronavirus ahead of any possible winter surge or emergence of new variants.
"If we don't take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption, and more uncertainty," Tedros said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, said the organization expected future waves of the disease, but was hopeful those would not cause many deaths.
Glatt said he expects the health care apparatus to "deal with this in a very scientific and yet practical way."
"I think the major difference between now and a year or two ago is we don’t have to have these broad public health sweeping measure to protect people," he said. "It has to be individualized.”
Correction: There were 486 COVID-19 deaths reported across the United States on Tuesday, Sept. 13. An earlier version of this story misattributed that statistic.