Is the COVID pandemic over? President Biden says so, but Maryland experts say there are still a lot of cases and more may be coming.

Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at The Baltimore Sun.

A new booster shot just became available to protect against newer and older versions of the coronavirus. Public health officials in Maryland just launched a campaign to get people to roll up their sleeves for it.

President Joe Biden may have just muddied the message.


“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” Biden declared in seemingly off-the-cuff remarks on the “60 Minutes” television program Sunday night.

The statement likely won’t alter any local marketing effort from health departments or doctors, or the availability of the shots in Maryland. Officials at the Maryland Department of Health, who sent out their regular schedule for state-run vaccine and testing clinics Monday, say it’s preparedness plans are for the long term. State Health Secretary Dennis Schrader sent out a photo of himself getting the new booster.


But public health experts say Biden’s remarks may be ill-timed as people already are taking an increasingly lax approach to masking, distancing and boosting against the virus. Some have warned that serious cases may be waning but that there could be another wave of infections in the late fall or winter, and that the public should be prepared.

“It seems an odd message to me. I am not sure what the goal is‚” said Dr. Eric Toner, an emergency physician and a senior scientist in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security. “With 65,000 new reported infections, many more unreported, and 450 new deaths per day, 164,000 annualized, it is hard to believe the pandemic is over.

“It is true that it is less severe by almost any measure, and it is true that most infections now are relatively mild, but for the millions of Americans at high risk, COVID remains a significant threat,” he said.

With schools reopening and people returning indoors, leading to more potential cases, and Biden’s own push for more congressional funding for COVID-19 resources, Toner found the timing of the president’s statement even more perplexing.

Dr. Greg Schrank, associate hospital epidemiologist and infectious diseases physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center, saw the comment more as representing “an inflection point” where cases are not gone, but the threat has changed.

“We are no longer experiencing the same degree of public health crisis in the way we once were. The worst of the pandemic is behind us,” he said. “But without a doubt COVID-19 is not gone and we need to continue to work to prevent it.”

Schrank said there has not been a specific cutoff point for the pandemic.

“I don’t see anything today as being different from yesterday.”


That’s in terms of the numbers.

The state health department reported 984 positive tests Monday, though new cases are significantly undercounted because many people testing at home are not reporting the results, while others may not be testing. There also were 463 hospitalizations and 10 deaths reported.

Those metrics are not significantly lower than in recent weeks, though they are much lower than the numbers reported during the pandemic high this past winter and even coming down from a smaller spring wave.

A map from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that all of the Baltimore region and most of Maryland have low levels of COVID-19, but that report emphasizes more serious cases requiring hospitalization and not just cases. Another map look at transmission shows most of Maryland and the rest of the country at a high level.

The actual data, however, is getting a little tougher to come by. Citing the declining quality and utility of data reported by state governments, the Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center changed the way it operates and reports pandemic information.

The center’s dashboard became an internationally recognized real-time resource for the way it collected and processed data on cases, deaths, hospitalizations and tests.


Center officials said at-home testing had thrown off reporting and that, effective Wednesday, it would end collection and reporting of testing results and other information. It will rely largely on World Health Organization data rather than a varied collection developed at the center and report less information and less frequently.

Maryland’s health department continues to report information every weekday, and residents will need to rely on that and other sources to assess their own risks, as well as those of their families and communities.

Undoubtedly with kids going back to school and people generally spending more time inside when temperatures drop, cases will rise, Schrank said. The unpredictability of the coronavirus means another variant could emerge that better dodges people’s immune defenses, including those bolstered by the vaccines.

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

Schrank, also an assistant professor of medicine in the University of Maryland School of Medicine, recommends that everyone get the bivalent booster recently authorized by federal regulators.

That’s at least two months after the last shot, though waiting four to six months may be more beneficial for a strong immune system response. Those recently infected also can get a shot when they are recovered, but could benefit from waiting a couple of months so long as there isn’t a major uptick in cases and risk of reinfection.

Schrank also recommends the flu shot this fall, even at the same time as the COVID-19 booster, ahead of what may be a more active flu season than in recent years as people masked and distanced themselves. The bad flu season just experienced in Australia, a bellwether continent for North America, suggests influenza could be a bigger problem this year than in the past few years.


Public health officials already are on it, with messaging on social media, through targeted text messages and general campaigns. The Maryland Department of Health has begun its campaign, as have some local departments.

Schrader was among those in Maryland recently getting the new bivalent booster shot, as well as the annual flu shot at a CVS pharmacy in Laurel last week.

They are available to anyone 12 or older. The state has an “Are You Up to Date?” portal to let people see whether they are in need of another vaccination.

“These COVID bivalent boosters are an important and timely new tool in our COVIDReady toolkit and I was pleased to receive one,” Schrader said in a statement. “With colder weather and holidays right around the corner, boosting your protection against COVID is the best way to keep yourself, family and friends protected. While you are there, roll up your other sleeve for a flu shot. It’s a convenient way to stay healthy in the fall and winter months.”