In recent days there has been a flood in good news on the covid front. Consider that a recent report from Bank of America, which notes that “COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to plunge” we read the following encouraging data points:
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US has declined dramatically to 81,439, or 51,035 (down 39%) from the peak which occurred on January 5th – a rapid turn in the crisis. The decrease is broad-based (50 states + DC, except for AK, which saw a minimal 2-person increase over the past week).
The weekly percentage change in US COVID-19 hospitalized is consistent with the largest declines seen during the coronavirus crisis. Moreover the 7-day test positivity rate has declined to 7.2% from the 13.6% peak on January 8th. Since hospitalizations are lagged relative to time of infection,US coronavirus outbreaks peaked back in the second half of December.
Finally, the vaccine rollout in the US accelerated to more than 2 million doses per day over the weekend and a cumulative 41.2mn doses had been administered through February7th.
The recent widespread improvements prompted Goldman to get this close to declaring the all clear: in a Monday note from chief economist Jan Hatzius, he writes that “the global virus situation has improved significantly, with both new confirmed cases and the positivity rate down meaningfully since December. It is still too early for a significant impact from vaccinations, so we would attribute the improvement to other factors such as new restrictions, greater caution in individual behavior, and perhaps partial herd immunity in some places.”
More notably, Hatzius notes that “the renewed improvement in the UK is particularly noteworthy because of the concerns about new variants, in this caseB117, which surfaced first there…. the UK’s response to its B117-heavy infection surge in December was similar to France’s response to its surge in October. The fact that both countries saw their infections decline in similar ways after the ELI increase suggests that B117 has not been a game changer, at least so far.”
So much for worries that mutant strains would render both the response strategy and vaccines moot.
And yet despite this impressive improvement in the pandemic, some are hinting that covid may be here to stay for a long, long time. Take the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Alex Gorsky, who told CNBC that people may need to get vaccinated annually for Covid-19, Gorsky told CNBC the virus can mutate as it spreads causing it to have different responses to therapeutics and vaccines.
“Unfortunately, as [the virus] spreads it can also mutate,” he told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell during a Healthy Returns Spotlight event. “Every time it mutates, it’s almost like another click of the dial so to speak where we can see another variant, another mutation that can have an impact on its ability to fend off antibodies or to have a different kind of response not only to a therapeutic but also to a vaccine.”
“We’ll be getting a Covid-19 shot just like we would a flu shot. What that shot is going to be comprised of, I don’t think we know today. But I think we could all imagine a future where we’re living with this. But where we can keep the science at pace with the virus, so that we can keep on living our lives” Gorsky said.
Of course, the CEO of J&J – a company which stands to make billions from selling the covid vaccine year after year – has a clear conflict of interest and would like nothing more than to sell vaccines indefinitely… and to see Covid circulate within the population forever. After all, that would not only pump up JNJ’s stock price but the CEO’s compensation as well.
What is more troubling is that the narrative that covid will never actually go away is one that the mainstream media is starting to trumpet as well. As the WSJ reported earlier this week, while “vaccination drives hold out the promise of curbing Covid-19, but governments and businesses are increasingly accepting what epidemiologists have long warned: The pathogen will circulate for years, or even decades, leaving society to coexist with Covid-19 much as it does with other endemic diseases like flu, measles, and HIV.”
“Going through the five phases of grief, we need to come to the acceptance phase that our lives are not going to be the same,” said Thomas Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I don’t think the world has really absorbed the fact that these are long-term changes.”
So does that mean masks and social distancing forever? Perhaps:
Endemic Covid-19 doesn’t necessarily mean continuing coronavirus restrictions, infectious-disease experts said, largely because vaccines are so effective at preventing severe disease and slashing hospitalizations and deaths. Hospitalizations have already fallen 30% in Israel after it vaccinated a third of its population. Deaths there are expected to plummet in weeks ahead.
But some organizations are planning for a long-term future in which prevention methods such as masking, good ventilation and testing continue in some form. Meanwhile, a new and potentially lucrative Covid-19 industry is emerging quickly, as businesses invest in goods and services such as air-quality monitoring, filters, diagnostic kits and new treatments.
Of course, it also means that while some zombie companies will exist only thanks to billons in periodic PPP bailouts, other companies will make unprecedented profits as they directly benefit from a perpetual pandemic.
More importantly, it will means constant media propaganda, because any time the administration needs to pass a multi-trillion stimulus – say when ratings sag – it can just crank up the panic dial to max and greenlight itself another multi-trillion fiscal boost which makes the economy ever more artificial and unable to survive on its own two feet absent constant government handouts.