Monday, August 14, 2023







The assumption everywhere in America, especially in California, is that the coronavirus pandemic is over.


But as the old Walt Disney tune has long reminded us about presumptions: “It ain’t necessarily so.”


Go to any gym that was closed for a year or more at the height of the pandemic, where masking was required for many months after reopening, and it’s rare to see even one person in a protective mask.


Visit most restaurants, and far more diners are enjoying meals indoors than outside, as became the vogue when the pandemic began to ease a bit in 2021.


Go to a ballpark and try to find anyone in a mask. In fact, hospitals and other health care facilities are about the only places where masking is taken seriously. Even there, workers, patients and visitors all are about as concerned today about other diseases as over COVID-19.


        But what if the virus mutates again, for the seemingly umpteenth time, and takes a more threatening form than the last few iterations? In reality, new spinoffs of the Omicron variant appear about monthly in California, but so far existing vaccines and medications are handling them and hospitalization rates remain low.


        At the height of the pandemic, the state’s Public Health department and the health department of Los Angeles County, largest civic entity in the nation below the state level, often operated in tandem. What one decreed, the other followed, often on the same day.


        That’s why a new Covid response plan issued by that county probably gives a good idea of what might happen if public presumptions prove wrong and there’s a return to crowded Covid wards in hospitals and frenzied, sudden rule-making by public authorities. The basics of that plan: deploy boosters and other drugs.


        For one thing, even though they have all but disappeared from daily newspaper and television updates, both the state and county still keep careful and detailed statistics on Covid occurrence. A sudden spike would cause new edicts.


        But there is no sign any such dictates are imminent. For one thing, Los Angeles County sets levels of Covid incidence ranging from low hospital admissions (less than 10 cases per 100,000 population) to high admissions (more than 20 per 100,000). When the county issued its last update, there were still distinct COVID-19 treatment sections in some large hospitals, but not in most small to medium-sized ones.


        But the actual admission rate was running near three cases per 100,000 population – ultra low.


        This can be ascribed both to effectiveness of the new bivalent booster shots of the vaccines readily available to people over 60, which cover both original Covid and the pernicious Omicron, and the fact that the newest viral variations are not as harmful or deadly as the original or its early mutations.


        Out of hospital treatments also are now widely available, especially the oral Pfizer drug Paxlovid, which quickly eliminates symptoms in many patients. Without serious symptoms, hospitalization is generally unneeded.


        But state and local health authorities warn against growing lax in wariness of Covid.


        “Treatments (like Paxlovid) can prevent you from getting very sick,” trumpets a bulletin from Los Angeles County. “They have been proven to significantly reduce the risk of death or hospitalization from COVID-19.”


        But the state warns against letting people’s guard down completely and becoming complacent. “Treatment must be started early,” they note. “The oral medicines must be started within five days of when symptoms begin. Do not wait for symptoms to get worse.”


        Meanwhile, prescriptions are needed for the oral drugs, but booster shots can be had for the asking. And the health agencies point out citizenship and insurance status are not now factors in either drug or booster availability.


        That’s not very different from what’s available to deal with the flu and some other common ailments.


        One thing not mentioned anywhere any more: Closing schools or businesses. Those were the most controversial and politically contentious elements among the early methods of trying to contain Covid.


        All of which suggests that medical and pharmaceutical advances have created a situation like anti-vaccination activists always wish for: Treatments and preventives are available to anyone who wants them, but no one will compel compliance, even though vaccine and drug effectiveness becomes more obvious every day.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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