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IU expert warns COVID pandemic not behind us yet

Joey Mendolia

The United States this week marked a grim milestone, announcing one million Americans have now died from COVID 19.

The Biden Administration says it expects to see another million Americans infected with COVID-19 this fall and winter. And that’s a worry for Graham McKeen, IU’s assistant director of public and environmental health.

“What I’m most concerned about is repeated infection and long COVID,” McKeen said. “We have millions of Americans suffering from a really broad host of different long-term conditions that might be serious or debilitating as the virus can literally impact just about every organ in the body.

“What does that mean for all of us? And what does that mean for the healthcare system in the long run? I think that’s why minimizing spread now is still so important.”

And it’s even more important as cases are once again on the rise.

The U.S. has been reporting around 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily this week. That’s about four times more than the cases reported two months ago. McKeen said it’s also a “gross underestimate” of the true number of cases.

“About 75 percent of all tests in the U.S. are at-home tests,” McKeen said. “Those are not reported; they’re not reportable in our public health system, so you don’t see those numbers anywhere. And many don’t get tested.”

McKeen said tracking the virus and updating the public has become more difficult as the state’s COVID dashboard has been scaled back and CDC guidelines have changed. He said under the old maps when counties showed red, masking would be recommended.

“As of today, 80 percent of Indiana counties have high or substantial level of spread,” McKeen said. “And, of course, not a single one has a masking policy.”

McKeen said he gets it that after more than two years living in a pandemic, many Americans are done worrying about the virus.

“I understand, ‘We’re over it,’” he said. “But the virus clearly is not over us; it will not be eradicated.

“Wishing it away, ignoring is or minimizing it isn’t going to help. It isn’t going to stop it.”

As cases rise, McKeen and other health officials continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.