South Dakota editorial roundup: Fighting COVID — it’s mostly up to you now

(Metro photo)

Editor's note: This editorial was originally published on Nov. 13, 2023. 

We all wish we could ignore COVID-19 by this point, but the fact is, we ignore the specter of the coronavirus even now at our own peril.

This is a tale that continues to unfold on many fronts across the nation and the world. It plays out every day in every American state, in every county and every town.

Even now. Even in late 2023. Even more than 3½ years into the pandemic.

Last week’s COVID-19 update in South Dakota was a reminder of that. The state posted nine more deaths for the previous week, two of which occurred in Yankton County. The state has seen 17 deaths in the past three weeks, and Yankton County has registered five deaths this fall.

Worldwide, the pandemic has officially seen nearly 7 million COVID-related fatalities, and that number continues to creep upward.

In the United States, nearly 1.19 million people have died and continue to die of COVID. Last week, COVID-19 reportedly accounted for 2.3% of all deaths in this country.

And yet, we no longer treat it as a pressing concern.

Part of the issue, no doubt, is general fatigue. Starting in March 2020, we were placed on high alert as the coronavirus swept across the nation. We saw so many deaths and were impacted by numerous disruptions of public life.

Ultimately, vaccines arrived, as well as a resistance to vaccines that has somewhat undercut the overall effectiveness of the vaccination effort.

Through it all, the public (especially after the arrival of the vaccines) grew weary of the constant threat, and we now generally treat COVID as a fact of everyday life, a seasonal danger (that’s actually not so seasonal) that may or may not be addressed.

Because of that, many public officials, even in the health field, have effectively backed off on the threat. The Biden Administration put an end to the COVID emergency last spring, and reporting COVID positive tests is no longer mandatory. Consequently, it’s much harder to come up with firm numbers on the actual cases and the deaths from them; both statistics now are most likely undercounted.

In effect, the fight against COVID-19 has mostly been left now to individuals, as government officials at many levels are leery to aggressively delve back into this issue again. Even entities like the South Dakota Department of Health provide very little discussion or disseminate little information on the topic. (Its resumption of weekly COVID updates a couple of weeks ago was done with practically no public announcement.)

COVID-19 is now being treated much like influenza, although there are very big differences. One of them is the growing issue of long COVID, which figures to loom as a matter of public impact even when the pandemic is officially declared at an end. It remains a mystery that could possibly have prolonged and expensive complications for individuals and for society.

So, back to the point: COVID defense is up to you, as the shepherding that guided us through the first couple of years of the pandemic has basically wandered off. It remains important to stay up to date on vaccinations and to still consider wearing a mask and practicing social distancing when and if the situation warrants (such as when you are around people at higher risk of infection).

More than ever, it’s up to you. There’s still information that can guide you, but it may not be so widely disseminated as it was in the past. That’s not the smartest public way to keep the threat from a pandemic in check, but it’s the way government officials have seemingly chosen.

Thus, your own education on the issue is more essential than ever.