Eventually the ‘rona comes for all of us. It was remarkable that he managed to avoid infection for as long as he did, frankly.

He’s experiencing “very mild symptoms” so far, thank goodness. Today even atheists will join in the prayers for Joe Biden’s good health, to spare us the prospect of — deep breath — President Kamala Harris.

Can I get in on the ground floor here of the inevitable “the Saudis gave it to him deliberately” conspiracy theory?

Much will be written today about whether the president’s recovery will boost enthusiasm for taking precautions against COVID or dampen it. On the one hand, if a man who’s older than the sun can shake off the virus with little ill effect, some will draw the conclusion that the threat from COVID truly has passed. Throw caution to the wind! A virus that can’t fell a frail octogenarian is no match for the rest of us.

On the other hand, that would be emphatically the wrong conclusion, especially for older people. Check this out.

The first booster is *really* important if you’re over 50. But the second booster further cuts your risk of death even relative to those who had one booster. Biden, of course, has had two. And if he’s already on Paxlovid, his chances of a speedy recovery are excellent.

He’s not the oldest person in the administration to have gotten COVID in the past month either. Eighty-one-year-old Anthony Fauci finally caught it too and has since recovered, although not before experiencing a so-called “Paxlovid rebound.” Some users of the drug have found that symptoms abate over the five-day course of treatment only to come roaring back once they discontinue the medication. “Over the next day or so I started to feel really poorly, much worse than in the first go around,” he said in late June after his first regimen of Paxlovid was done. He’s okay now, though. In all likelihood, Biden will be too.

In a way it’s ironic that he tested positive today as the NYT has a splashy new story out this morning warning readers that “endemic COVID” isn’t as unthreatening as they may think. Granted, we’re not seeing the super-spikes in deaths nationally that we saw during the worst days of 2020 and 2021, as there’s simply too much immunity across the population for that. But lots of people, disproportionately older, are still dying. And if the current pace holds, the U.S. will see many more deaths from “endemic COVID” during an average year than it currently sees from the average flu season. It wasn’t “just the flu” when it first arrived two years ago and it still isn’t “just the flu” now:

Right now, [virologist Trevor] Bedford says, around 5 percent of the country is getting infected with the coronavirus each month and he expects that pattern to largely continue. What would that imply death-wise, I ask? As a ballpark estimate, he says, going forward we can expect that every year, around 50 percent of Americans will be infected and more than 100,000 will die.

This year has been considerably worse than that, largely because it includes the initial arrival of Omicron — which, though often described as “mild,” killed more than 100,000 Americans in the first six weeks of the year. And so although the country’s current trajectory is following an annualized pace of 100,000 deaths, more than 200,000 Americans have died already this year, which implies over 250,000 deaths by the end of 2022

A hundred thousand deaths is more than the annual toll of any other infectious disease and would make Covid-19 a top-10 cause of death in the country — a major and novel cause of widespread death clouding the American horizon with another dark layer of morbidity we had never known before. It’s a few multiples of a typical flu season and more than die each year from diabetes, pneumonia or kidney disease. It is what this newspaper once called, in an immortal front-page banner, “an incalculable loss.”

One hundred thousand deaths a year for the foreseeable future is a low-end estimate. Factor in seasonal effects (the virus spreads more easily in winter) and waning immunity among older people, many of whom haven’t been boosted, and it could creep up to 200,000 or 300,000 a year — and that’s despite the fact that, by Bedford’s estimate, at least 95 percent of the population has acquired a degree of immunity from vaccination and/or infection. As always, it’s a numbers game: Even in a country where people are much better prepared to fend off COVID than they were two years ago, the new Omicron subvariants spread so easily and are so good at evading immunity that the virus will find those who aren’t well prepared for it. Lots of sickness and death to come, if not at the same clip as we’ve gotten used to.

Thankfully, Biden is well prepared. In fact, given the ability of BA.5 to reinfect people, this probably isn’t his last bout with COVID.

Update: A bit more detail on those very mild symptoms.

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