Despite Biden's remark, St. Joseph County still in orange COVID threat rating

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In an interview with "60 Minutes" at the Detriot Auto Show, President Joe Biden said that the COVID-19 pandemic "is over."

"The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID,” the president said. "We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over."

Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 360 Americans are dying each day from COVID-19.

“I think it’s unfortunate in the way it rolled out because it comes across as glib or politically motivated,” St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox said Tuesday in reaction to Biden’s declaration. “I think people are across the spectrum as far as how seriously they take" COVID.

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As for whether he believes the pandemic is over, Fox said, it’s difficult to say because there isn’t a baseline of acceptable disease activity with which to make comparisons, as there is for a disease such as the flu, with more than 100 years of data for comparison.

“I think (Biden’s statement) reflects a reality of where much of the public are, where they, A, don’t take it seriously or, B, they’ve figured out how to go about their lives without being affected by it,” he said. “That’s the reality.”

Medical professionals and officials are urging Americans age 12 and older to get a second COVID booster vaccine if eligible ahead of possible spikes in infection rates as we enter fall and winter. The new boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna target the original virus as well as the new BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants, which now make up the majority of COVID cases worldwide.

Dr. Mark Fox is the deputy health officer for St. Joseph County.
Dr. Mark Fox is the deputy health officer for St. Joseph County.

In St. Joseph County, 57.8% of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning they have received two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The county's numbers are lower than the number of people nationwide who are fully vaccinated. According to Oxford University's Our World in Data, about 68% of Americans are fully vaccinated.

“I think we are somewhat under-vaccinated, but there’s also a level of herd immunity because so many people got it, so there’s some protection in that,” Fox said. “As long as we don’t see a wildly dangerous new variant, we might be fine. … Vaccines still remain very important in preventing severe hospitalization and deaths.”

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In the seven days preceding Tuesday, St. Joseph County had 92 new daily COVID cases per 100,000 people. This puts the county in the CDC's "orange" or "substantial transmission" risk zone for number of cases per 100,000 population.

The county is currently under a CDC COVID Community Level of medium. Under this community risk level, the CDC recommends those at high risk for severe illness should talk to their healthcare provider about wearing a mask and taking other precautions.

But, Fox said, with the growth of at-home testing, the county's numbers are below the actual level of infection.

“Our best guess is it’s probably between three and five times higher,” he said. “We know it’s woefully undercounted because that reflects only tests at doctor’s offices and other healthcare facilities.”

Tribune Staff Writer Andrew S. Hughes contributed to this report.

Email Claire Reid at cereid@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Despite Biden's remark, St. Joseph County still in orange COVID rating