About 57% of Americans haven’t had covid yet: is it inevitable we get it?

In my early 30s I had a chronic illness that went undiagnosed. I went from being extremely active and working out daily to being unable to walk. I suspect I had lyme disease as I lived in Connecticut and would hike frequently. Although I recovered and am now almost as active as I used to be, it changed my perspective on health and the healthcare system. So many doctors told me it was “stress” and dismissed serious symptoms that came on suddenly. Medications didn’t help and recovery took about two years.

I am now risk averse when it comes to my health, especially given that even mild covid can cause chronic illness. I am careful about wearing a mask and my socialization is limited. A few weeks ago I had a close call where I would have caught covid if I did not insist on wearing a mask in a car. (We talked about that in podcast #115 around 4:30.) As far as I know, I have not had it yet and am of course vaccinated and boosted. That’s all preface to this story in the San Francisco chronicle that it’s best not to catch covid if you can avoid it. This sounds like a no-brainer of course, but US public policy is not consistent with this approach.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that around 43% of people in the U.S., or about 140 million people, have been infected with the coronavirus, which leaves almost 60% never having had it. The estimate counts each person once, so some of the more than 140 million Americans estimated to have had COVID may have been infected more than once.
While during the omicron surge experts and public health officials cautioned that the highly contagious variant would infect many people, they don’t think ending up with the virus is inevitable, at least in the near future. But, they say, it’s going to require a fine balance as we transition into the endemic stage of COVID-19.

“From my perspective, no, it’s not inevitable” over the next year or two, said UCSF Chair of Medicine Dr. Bob Wachter, who also hasn’t gotten COVID yet. He said when case rates are low, as they are now in the Bay Area, the roughly 60% of the population that has not had COVID is unlikely to get it, “since they won’t be exposed very much.”

Those who are vaccinated and boosted, he added, “will remain relatively protected even if they do get exposed.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UCSF, agreed, adding that as long as we’re in the transition period into the endemic stage of the virus, there’s no clear answer for whether you’ll inevitably get COVID in the long run — but it doesn’t have to be now.

“Are we all going to get it? Yes, biologically, that might happen,” he said. “Are we at a time to embrace that philosophy? No, because the virus is still causing a lot of suffering. Almost 2,000 deaths per day is no walk in the park.”

But Chin-Hong and other experts agree that — with some vigilance — it’s still possible to avoid the virus while enjoying life.

[From The San Francisco Chronicle]

I’m glad it’s not inevitable we catch it, but of course we have to stay safe. The article goes on to say that it’s also worth delaying catching covid if possible because treatment advances will be available in just a few months. What’s more, and they don’t even mention this, is that hospitals are still strained from the pandemic, particularly in certain areas. I hope if you’re reading this you’re vaccinated. Breakthrough infections are common and we don’t know the long term effects or how it will affect people we come in contact with.

As I’ve mentioned, I live in a rural area where many people didn’t wear masks even pre-vaccine. The CDC flip flopped on this issue so many times and recently changed their statistical models to say we can remove the masks in some places again. This is despite the fact that transmission and death rates remain high. Almost 1,700 people died of covid in the US just yesterday. The fact that mass death has been normalized and that masks are optional again blows my mind. Children under five still cannot be vaccinated and we know that covid can cause serious long term illness in children, including increasing the risk for diabetes. I’m going to keep masking for myself and for others. I give zero sh-ts what people think, because I know people who think masks impede “freedom” or that it’s no big deal to catch or spread covid are misinformed at best.

This is the transmission rate by county from the CDC’s website. I took this screenshot at 6:15 am today, March 8th. Why take your mask off in a “blue” county when the next county over is red?

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42 Responses to “About 57% of Americans haven’t had covid yet: is it inevitable we get it?”

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  1. ME says:

    I think it’s way too soon to get rid of masks. Like wayyyyy too soon. We need to think about all the people who couldn’t get immunized due to medical reasons, or those who have weak immune systems. Also, no one wants to catch this. The world is in a pandemic. South Korea and Hong Kong have super high cases right now. God knows when a new variant will strike. Living “normal” is still very far off.

    • fluffybunny says:

      A new variant has already struck it’s the BA.2 variant that is now called Pi. It’s a mutation of the last one and you can get it if you just recently had covid.

      • ME says:

        Haven’t heard of Pi yet. Wow…this seems never ending.

      • Duo says:

        BA.2 is a sub lineage of Omicron. It is considered more contagious than the original Omicron, but not it’s own variant and not any more virulent or deadly. Where are you reading that it is now being called Pi?

  2. Kate says:

    There is a lot to be desired, but mainly I wish there was a rule that prevented employers from requiring people with kids under 5 (or who can’t get vaccinated for whatever reason) or living with immunocompromised people to return to the office, to the extent it’s a job that can be done remotely. It’s so unfair to me to require people to put their loved ones at risk when we’ve proven over the last few years that many industries can work from home just fine.

    • MF says:

      Yes, this is a huge need. My husband is immunocompromised so he has ADA protections at work. I, however, do not, and my employer just removed their mask mandate. I haven’t been pressured to come back into the office yet, but I do have some all-day in-person meetings soon and I think I may be required to travel soon too. It’s stressing me out, and I’ve spoken to my manager and other people at work about this, but no one seems to get that for me, the pandemic is NOT over.

      • Kate says:

        Thinking of you. It’s such a hard position to be in. I hope you and your husband are able to stay safe.

    • Shawna says:

      YES. My employer admitted in the early part of the pandemic that I could do my job remotely, but now it’s supposedly impossible for me to do that…even though I have a toddler, who can’t be vaccinated.

  3. TIFFANY says:

    I still wear a mask and this is my new norm.

    I don’t even feel comfortable sitting outside my complex for some fresh air because people still ain’t acting right after 3 years. Three. Years.

    My Physician had to prescribe me a high dose of Vitamin D capsules because of the lack of outside expose I get (I have a office job that requires me to be pretty much at my desk, all day everyday).

    Act right should he common sense and courtesy, but people have shown their ass these past years.

    • anne says:

      @TIFFANY “…people still ain’t acting right after 3 years.” Funny and sad at the same time. I live in L.A. County and I’m actually not sure if they’ve rolled back all mask restrictions yet, but I’m seeing more and more people waltzing around inside stores without masks. No, thank you.

      I’m going to wait and see what happens AFTER mask requirements are rolled back. I have no desire to be a COVID guinea pig. We’ve done this dance so many times “Oh, look! Stats are down! We can live free!’ And then like clockwork, stats go right back up when people start acting like idiots.

      Personally, I think things will never go back to how they were in the Before Times. People think that’s unimaginable, but look at all the way our collective lives have altered permanently due to other global events, like taking off your shoes at the airport after 9/11 is now an automatic and accepted.

      I will be wearing a mask and staying away from crowds for the foreseeable future and I’m not mad about it.

    • NotSoSocialB says:

      I’m going to mask at least till summer. Our daughter graduates from uni in May, and I am concerned about that and of going to a crowded restaurant afterward.😬

  4. Dee says:

    We spent 18 months worried that we might bring Covid home to my disabled cancer patient FIL. When my BIL and SIL got it, we worried who would take care of FIL if we got it as well. FIL passed in September, from the cancer, and as much as we miss him, it felt like a hundred pounds lifted from our shoulders. I’m not changing my mask wearing even now; I know too many vulnerable people. I don’t understand the hurry to unmask and “get back to normal” when people are still dying at the rate of thousands per day.

  5. Liz Version 700 says:

    I can’t get the link to post, but a new study just released shows significant increase in heart issues from folks who even had mild cases of Covid. The article is in Nature.com. Another study from England shows brain changes from Covid. Chances are high we will eventually get Covid, but I am happy to fight like heck to put off catching it as long as possible so research can figure out how to fight all of the side effects it can cause!!!

    • Traveller says:

      Yes, I just read that study that said there were brain changes (loss of gray matter/tissue damage) even in asymptomatic covid cases. It is unclear what all the long term consequences will wind up being; only time and longer-term studies will tell.
      This is not something you want to choose to be cavalier about.

  6. Ainsley7 says:

    I’m not sure how accurate this is. It’s probably counting based on positive tests. It doesn’t seem like they are accounting for everyone who didn’t get tested. There is no real way to know how many people actually got it. Covid has a pretty wide range when it comes to how sick you get. For example, my mom works in a healthcare facility. During the height of omicron, one of the employees who works directly with patients came in with mild symptoms and it wasn’t found out until day 3 when she got worse. So, for 2 days, she was spreading it all over. While they kept testing patients, they stopped testing employees because they couldn’t afford to have the whole staff out. Many people got it, but since they were all vaccinated everyone’s symptoms were pretty mild. During this time, no one bothered to get tested because they knew what they had. I live with my mom and I got it from her I didn’t bother to get tested because I felt like crap and knew what I had. I didn’t see a need to leave the house to get a test when I had no intention of leaving the house until after I was better anyway. So, the same is possibly also true for other people who where in a situation where they knew that they had it, but weren’t that sick. So, I’m not sure their numbers are entirely accurate. Not to mention all the MAGAts who don’t believe in the virus and didn’t get sick enough to need medical care. They wouldn’t have gotten tested either. Also, some people who tested positive were completely asymptomatic and only got tested because they had been in contact with someone who had it. So, there are probably plenty of asymptomatic people who also never got tested.

    • Kate says:

      Right and once there was at-home testing available I think a lot of people used those and didn’t get testing done at a place where a positive test would be reported. I also think that estimate is shockingly low and likely inaccurate. I may be biased because I would say 80-90% of the people I know have gotten it, and we have all been pretty conservative by most accounts (isolating pre-vaccine, working from home, consistently wearing masks in public, etc.).

      • North of Boston says:

        No one person’s circle of acquaintances can be used as a guideline.

        Your circle may have 80-90% of people who have been infected, but my circle is closer to 20%

        But I agree that there are likely people who home tested and never got tracked.

        The fact that there are STILL people beating the ‘why bother, everyone is going to get it” drum when there are people suffering, dying and there is still so much unknown about the long term effects and what IS known is kind of scary, it’s so disheartening.

      • Kate says:

        @North of Boston yes, that’s exactly why I said I may be biased in my belief! I also know that living in NYC, we have had a lot more exposure than a lot of areas. But also of the many people I know who have had COVID, maybe 10-20% had a positive test from a lab or doctor, so most have gone unreported.

      • Gigi says:

        Also, vaccines work. I caught omicron after getting a booster, and several PCR and rapid tests came back negative. But I know I had covid because of the symptoms. However, my PCR tests all have negative results marked in the system–and we already went through the whole asymptomatic people not showing up as positive back in 2020.

    • dawnchild says:

      My kid worked in public health Covid response for one of the biggest US cities, and she advised that even if you think you have it, and have it mildly, get a PCR test…because without that PCR test it’s going to be hard to claim insurance benefits or treatment if you do end up with long Covid-related issues. So it’s better to be on record as being PCR positive for insurance purposes

      • Kate says:

        That’s interesting. Unfortunately for me, I got COVID in the first NYC wave in March 2020 and it was impossible to get tested at that time unless you needed to be hospitalized. But I’ll keep that in mind in case I am unlucky enough to get it again!

      • Traveller says:

        That is a very good point.

    • Becks1 says:

      Yeah, I think this number of people who haven’t had COVID yet is an overestimate. I know anecdotes are not the same as research lol, but I had it (and got a PCR test so I’m counted). I’m 99% sure I got it from my kids who had “bad colds” for like a day, so it didn’t even occur to me that it was COVID, this was January and I just thought “yuck cold” and then they were fine. My husband tested positive for it but that was a home test. So I’m assuming that all 4 of us had it but only 1 is accounted for in the official statistics. And I know a lot of other families who had similar experiences.

      so yes, there are definitely a LOT of people who tested at home so aren’t being tracked.

      That said, I’m still wearing my mask even though mask mandates are gone and my kids are still wearing them to school (although they are in the minority with that.) I figure it doesn’t really cost me anything or hurt me to wear it, and it probably helps someone that I’m interacting with, even if I don’t know it.

  7. T3PO says:

    My sister has run a testing clinic at a hospital for years now and not contracted covid despite swabbing noses all day everyday. She wears her mask religiously and is an avid hand washer (she’s a doctor). I will stick with a mask anytime I’m in public. I am going to a friend’s outdoor baby shower in May. I will be masked. I will get my boosters as soon as I’m allowed for forever. I will do my best to not get or spread covid.

  8. Eurydice says:

    I don’t think they really know how many people have had Covid. PBS had a piece a few months ago that more than half of Covid tests taken are the home type and those who don’t positive don’t report it to their doctors unless they need medical care. I know of several people who diagnosed themselves with home tests and did just that.

  9. khaveman says:

    It’s potentially linked to brain damage, so best not try to get it. I’m still masking up at the grocery store, etc.

  10. Case says:

    I’m glad it’s not inevitable. I hate when people so flippantly say “oh, we’ll all get it eventually.” That is a death sentence for some, even when triple vaccinated (not to mention those who medically cannot be), and I can’t believe how casual people are about it. I have high risk factors and while I’m trying to get a bit more social and back in the world, I will continue masking for probably years to come.

    The CDC keeps changing the goalposts on what they consider to be high spread areas in order to get people “back to normal” and revive the economy. So many doctors and scientists on social media are disturbed by this.

  11. C-Shell says:

    TBH, I’m pretty happy to see the yellow county in VA is the one where I live. The economic engine here is a major university, and the protocols have been pretty strict and well-adopted. Anyway, I’m a bit at risk due to age and immunity issues, so have been really careful and got vaccinated and boosted as soon as I was able. I wear a mask in public. Most businesses still have their employees masked, even though our new GOP governor has tried to reverse 3 years of public health measures. Reports like this make me think I might come through it all COVID-free. 🤞🏼🤞🏼

  12. theotherViv says:

    They opened nightclubs again yesterday here in Germany and people acted as if it was the second coming of Christ. Jam-packed in every city.
    Because of Omicron causing milder symptoms so many people are starting to care less and less here. We had carnival two weeks ago for a whole week and while it was restricted everyone I know who has kids aged 16-25 braced themselves for an inevitable infection of their kid. So many of them had symptoms one or two days after carnival ended so we know they probably got infected the first or second day and walked around breathing on other people for some days before they developed symptoms. I have EIGHT friends with kids sick after carnival. People are mostly hometesting now, so numbers are not registered but still our official numbers are going up, not down.

  13. Emma says:

    The CDC is still recommending masks, I think? Just not requiring them.

    People are really tempting fate. It’s not inevitable to get COVID-19, and masks should absolutely be the new normal. I personally will continue to mask and distance. This is nothing to sneeze at. Pun not intended.

    What’s probably up is the Republicans poised to retake congress in the midterms so even though Omicron just went through all the politicians are catering to the violent clown crowd.

    I really appreciate this website having a sensible take on the pandemic!

    • Cate says:

      Yes, indoor masks are still recommended and I’m continuing to use one for now (even though I caught omicron earlier this year!).

      My feeling is, getting it may be inevitable but if you can push it off a bit further the treatments will probably be better/more readily available, so stuff like masking in public places just seems to kind of make sense still.

  14. Wiglet Watcher says:

    I’m in a High zone where people tend to not wear masks. There are still hospitalizations and deaths.
    My husband and I were directly exposed by someone that has since died of Covid. Both of us never got it.
    We also take a lot of mycelium supplements along with vac, masks and avoidance.

  15. Tiredmomof2 says:

    Yeah. Work for health system that still has extra refrigerated morgues. Not stopping wearing an N95 mask when I go inside anywhere. I have risk factors, so am trying to be as careful as possible. Live in a red county where very few people wear masks. Am taking all precautions.

  16. AppleCart says:

    I live alone I WFH since this started. Not only have I not gotten COVID I haven’t even gotten the common cold since 2018. I will continue to mask in stores and keep socializing to a minimum. And get boosted as required. The only thing that worries me is my company is itching to get people back in the office on the regular. Once that happens and I am forced to be near people for a paycheck. I am resigned to the fact at some point I know I will get it. That’s when I have to consider the ‘great resignation’ options in front of me.

  17. Luna17 says:

    I’m surprised the number is that high of Americans who haven’t got it! I agree the numbers are way off since so many people didnt test at all or did home tests. It seemed like everyone had it in December with Omicron. I think I had it in Feb 2020 (sicker than I’ve ever been, thought I was dying and confirmed it was definitely in my area at that time). My husband had some sniffles and stomach stuff a few months ago but no testing was around us so we don’t know. The centers around us had lines that took hours to wait in and there was no way we were going to stand in line for hours just to see what the test says.

    • JanetDR says:

      It does seem very low. Mr R caught it at work in January, 2020. I had been doing a pretty good job of keeping my distance from him because he had a lot of exposure at work. Unfortunately, I gave him a haircut and beard trim the day before he tested positive. I never got tested because I was told that I couldn’t leave the house. I did have some relatively mild symptoms – a tummy ache like I hadn’t had since I was a child; sinus stuff; tired and headachy. So I assume I had it but there is no record of it at all. I doubt that I’m alone in that!

  18. Willow says:

    I also live in a rural area and Covid came through here last month and everyone got it. About 50% of people were wearing paper or cloth masks then. Now only about 20% do. I think most people getting the ‘mild’ flu version is making the majority feel safe. And lots of people have been ignoring safety measures from the beginning.
    The thing is, it’s a virus that’s easy to catch and it mutates quickly. Covid is not going away. But I do think the longer you can put off getting it, the better.

  19. Happy_Fat_Mama says:

    One good thing is to read posts like this and all the positive comments. This winter I have often felt discouraged by the selfish and thoughtless behavior of the people around me. It feels good to hear from reasonable people. None of us are alone. Best wishes to you all!

  20. sansblague says:

    I live in the UK where it seems everyone has had covid. Our entire covid approach has been pretty shambolic from Day 1, which is why I spent most of the past couple of years in France. Just returned a few weeks ago and I got it. I’ve been alone in my room for 10 days now. My children are terrified of letting me out and getting it themselves after seeing how badly I suffered (I have 4 vaccines, AZ and Pfizer, so at least I’m alive!) I’d somehow forgotten I suffered from an autoimmune condition since controlling those symptoms has been part of my regime for years. Covid is no joke and I’m so bummed about the “ignore it” approach in the UK. Since that’s their position, I ventured out and went shopping at the greengrocer today, with serious masks on. One person stopped me on the street and asked if I’d heard the news that I’m not required to wear a mask thus I could just take it off. The shopkeeper told me the same when I walked in. I told him I HAVE covid and have for almost 2 weeks, and am still under the weather. He said never mind that, soon the free tests won’t be available anymore anyway so no one cares. I was kinda hoping the mask-wearing would be a lingering feature after covid, especially UK, but no such luck. I don’t know where I went wrong but I’m going to make every effort to make sure this never happens to me again because covid has been an awful journey.

  21. Amy T says:

    I’m a public librarian whose mask policy was in the purview of our city’s health department. We went mask-optional last week. My co-workers and I are continuing to wear our N-95s; but truthfully, it’s been a load off to not have to be the mask police any more.

    And because I don’t want to give anyone anything OR contract anything, I’m continuing to wear a mask in people-heavy situations, and don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

  22. Millennial says:

    We didn’t get it for 2 years, but with two kids in daycare/school, and parents who can’t WFH, it was virtually impossible to not get it during the Omicron wave. Everyone came back from Christmas travel and my kids had caught it within days of returning to school in January.

  23. OG Bella says:

    I’m pretty sure that I never had the flu (unless it was a mild case and didn’t realize) so I don’t know that it’s “inevitable”.