A new wave of COVID may come. Somehow we are not ready

A new wave of COVID may come. Somehow we are not ready.

Periods of epidemic remission are not intended to last. There are new signs that the United States may - focus on power - be about to succumb to another spike in COVID-19 cases. The CDC confirmed this week that sewage samples show increasing amounts of virus in cities across the country and that the new Omicron variant is fueling a new wave of diseases in Europe. Maybe we'll see a spike in hospitalizations and deaths again, perhaps we won't, and there's no point in panicking. But this doesn't seem like a good moment to let our guard down so much.

Somehow, we are not ready

The White House and Congress are stuck in a stalemate as they negotiate a new coronavirus relief bill that would provide $15 billion in new funding for testing, stocks of antiviral drugs for those who need them, and free vaccines for those who want them. Officials warn that those supplies and services will dry up very quickly without that money.

"Time is not on our side," an administration official told ABC News. "We need funding immediately."

So what is disruption? Controversy over how and for how long to pay the bill. The details of this debate are less interesting - and less important - than the obvious need to prepare if and when the pandemic becomes fierce again. Why can't the US do it right, at long last? We've had enough practice now, haven't we?

Perhaps our attention is diverted: there is a war in Ukraine; after all, all the oxygen during the conversation has understandably sucked out of the room. We may have been relieved by the lower hospitalization and mortality rates after Omicron's fast and dirty wave. Or we may have decided that the virus is endemic, and it is no longer worth the emergency panic after two years of hard work.

These are bad excuses. The virus won't go away because of the Russian invasion — if anything, the war could be a breeding ground for COVID and other viruses. Coronavirus deaths are down, but still very high: 1,268 Americans died of the disease on Wednesday. (CDC says nearly 1,500 people died from the flu in the entire flu season.) And even if the virus becomes endemic, that's no reason for the federal government to be inactive. "An endemic threat cannot be ignored, but one must be managed," Ed Young of The Atlantic wrote Thursday.

The story of the coronavirus pandemic is the story of American leaders who have been caught getting dressed repeatedly. The government wasn't ready for the original virus, which was celebrated prematurely just before the delta variant hit, and was still slow to increase test availability before the Omicron surge that began late last year. It's a bipartisan problem. And that leaves us staring at the possibility of another wave of COVID without our best defenses.

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