The Co-Founder of an SF PAC Says ‘Covid Is Over.’ It’s Not.

Sachin Agarwal, who co-founded GrowSF in 2020 with Steven Buss — both of whom now co-own The Bold Italic — wrote in a now-deleted post on X early Thursday that “Covid is over,” never mind that COVID-19 cases have spiked across the country, including right here in San Francisco.

Endemecy is an ongoing conversation, becoming standard discourse since the first COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose MRNA inoculation, was made publicly available in December 2020. The ensuing months (which later turned into years) would see supplemental dose recommendations, strain-specific booster shots, and antiviral drugs like Paxlovid and Lagevrio enter our collective health consciousness.

“Long COVID” is real — debilitating, frightening, and all-consuming for between 6% and 8% of all American adults who’ve contracted COVID-19. Shifts between masking and unmasking are inevitable. We’re on the precipice of such a change, right now. 

Much like other endemic viruses, e.g. the flu, SARS-CoV-2 will presumably be around as long as we exist on this mortal coil. Maybe long after we’ve left in this physical realm.

To say that COVID is over is not just remissive, dishonest, and utterly tone-deaf, it’s a dangerous falsehood to purport. It allows room for negligence around public health edicts, as well as offers opportunities to devalue ongoing work around the disease conducted by experts in the field. The tainted outcomes from expressing such a fallacy largely depend on what pulpit, digital or otherwise, it’s spoken from, as well as who is uttering said delusion.

(For example: The federal public health emergency [PHE] organized around the coronavirus pandemic was lifted in May of this year. It was a collaborative decision based on peer-reviewed data produced by some of the nation’s highest-ranking health officials, virologists, and other experts in the medical field. Note that in the official announcement from the Center for Disease Control [CDC], the PHE’s lifting didn’t connote the end of COVID-19, nor did it imply that the virus still didn’t serve a public health risk. Because both those statements are patently and factually untrue; it’s merely now that we have, per the CDC, “more tools and resources than ever before to better protect ourselves and our communities” from the virus.)

At nearly 1 a.m. Thursday, such a declaration was posted on X by GrowSF co-founder and co-owner of The Bold Italic Sachin Agarwal, writing that “Covid is over” and to “go have fun” in response to a user commenting on a picture Agarwal shared of the grand opening of SF’s IKEA location. The user wrote that the long lines pictured could allegedly drive a “superspreader event” — “don’t see many masks,” user [at]tkft7 continued.

As of publishing, Agarwal has since deleted the post, though not before users on the website formerly known as Twitter were able to screenshot his appalling hot take.

(A subsequent comment by X user [at]masterlongevity earlier Thursday morning urged Agarwal to delete his earlier posting, citing “Covid [is] certainly not over.” Agarwal responded to the user writing he “[hadn’t] thought about Covid in about a year” and such a mindset has been “great” for him. 

As of April 2023, more than 1.1 million Americans have died of the disease. The World Health Organization’s most recent epidemiological update on COVID-19 states that 1.4 million new cases of the disease were recorded between July 17th to August 13th, 2023, representing a 64% increase from the prior 28-day recording period.)

When I reposted Agarwal’s post and explained how damaging and absent-minded his belief was —  simultaneously waxing sarcastic that the former Apple engineer apparently moonlights as a public health expert — the contentious PAC co-founder doubled down on his ignorance, belittling my concern with a suggestion I “go have fun in San Francisco.” It was at this moment, too, I believe Agarwal hadn’t exhaustively comprehended who the fuck he was dealing with.

(Gentle sequitur: The laughable irony of telling me, an individual who routinely has 11-mile walking days around San Francisco, sponging up all its gorgeous tones and still harmonies, to effectively “go out and touch grass” is simply kismet. That’s without me even sharing that, since becoming car-free, I bike somewhere north of 100 miles around SF each week — in addition to still recording roughly 25 to 30 run miles between Monday and Saturday. Sometimes, the universe really does just hand you sublime copy to work into future content.)

As COVID-19 cases continue flaring up in the SF Bay Area, the overwhelming of these cases appear to be caused by a mutation-laden lineage BA.2.86 from the omicron variant — an unusual variant with several changes documented in its spike proteins; for context, the human body’s immune response to viruses is predicated on its ability to recognize infections agents, a.k.a antigens, and respond with the appropriate blood proteins; BA.2.86 is able to “sneak around” and avoid recognition by the host’s infection-specific antibodies, be they produced by past illnesses or immunizations.

An explainer in Nature published on August 21st heeds that scientists, frankly, don’t expect BA.2.86 to have an impact as large as omicron’s — “I don’t think anybody needs to be alarmed by this,” clarifies viral evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom — but its unique set of mutations, however, could set the foundation for a more communicable, perhaps deadlier variant later on. 

It’s why the present mantra around BA.2.86 is along the lines of Let’s keep an eye on this, see what we can learn, and react accordingly based on both quantitative and qualitative data sets.

BA.2.86 is largely behind why some regional hospitals, like Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, have reinstated mask mandates for patients, staff, and visitors alike, regardless of their immunization records. 

In San Francisco, all health care providers must mask up — but patients and visitors are only recommended to do so. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a patient and visitor mask mandate for City hospitals doesn’t make sense at the moment, given the current on-site transition rates. Yet, per Dr. Josh Adler, a chief clinical officer at UCSF, that sentiment applies to “right now,” suggesting it could change if that variable — “on-site transition rates” — surges.

As of publishing, Kaiser Permanente recommends mask-wearing for all patients, staff, and visitors in its Northern California facilities, which is in line with guidance published by UCSF and Sutter Health.

Figures published through the City’s COVID-19 data and reports portal show San Francisco’s current 7-day rolling average of new cases per day at 60 infections. 40 individuals are presently in San Francisco medical centers with acute COVID-19 infections; four of these people are in intensive care units (ICUs). 

For these 40 individuals, COVID is especially not over. It could, in fact, become the cause of mortality on their death certificates.

Agarwal’s comments on the present state around COVID-19 are deplorable — dystopian, disheartening, disappointing, and detached from what it means to walk through this world as an empathetic, engaged, and intelligent presence. His words, by proxy, dismiss the ongoing suffering of hundreds of thousands of people caused by this disease. 

For those who’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19, Agarwal’s blatant rejection of the realities around him comes off as not only crass but unnecessarily cruel. But by far the most unsettling truth of Agarwal’s sentiments is that they exist as examples of hubris and a lack of humility around public health. It’s those identical modalities of thinking that catapulted us into a global pandemic in the first place.

The only antidote to unchecked ego and inflated delusion is public accountability; to put those responsible for spewing perilous misinformation against substantiated facts; and to do so in a concise, cohesive manner that leaves no room for misunderstanding — a ballast weight to course-correct turbulent opinion.

COVID is by no means over. It, most likely, never will be. Much like the aforementioned disease, maligned hot takes posted on social media never really go away. Especially when pressing the ‘Command’, ‘Shift’, and ‘3’ keys require a mere 32 grams of force to actuate.

1 Comment

  • Great issue. Thanks especially for the covid correction. Cases continue to pop up in senior facilities around the city, prompting at least one to institute a recent one-week lockdown. Wearing a mask indoors, particularly in crowds, really isn’t that much of a bother.

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