Living with COVID: When will it be endemic?

Coexisting with COVID starts with vaccination, testing, prevention and treatment, leaders say

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Almost two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, some wonder when we’ll see the end of it.

More countries are easing their protective measures while infectious disease experts warn COVID-19 will likely remain a permanent fixture in our lives and still have the potential to cause serious, widespread disease.

Health leaders at Sanford Health say the next step is moving from a pandemic to an endemic phase.

Explaining the ‘endemic’ phase

“Endemic disease is something you can live with,” Chief Physician Jeremy Cauwels, M.D., said in a Feb. 10 Facebook Live Q&A with Sanford Health News. “When it doesn’t affect your life in such a way that you have to change the way your life is lived.”

Take the chickenpox, for example: other than when you’re sick with it, we don’t change the way we live to try and avoid the chickenpox.

“Measles is, for the most part, now controlled by a vaccine that is so effective we don’t worry on any given Tuesday about measles,” Dr. Cauwels added.

Read: The importance of immunizations

The combination of daily deaths, infection rates, limited available antiviral treatment medications and the strain on hospital systems have contributed to the continued pandemic.

How do we reach the endemic phase with COVID?

Dr. Cauwels said moving back to the endemic phase depends on:

  1. How many people are vaccinated
  2. Hospital system staffing
  3. A decrease in daily death and infection rates
  4. Widespread availability of lab or at-home testing, treatment, prevention

“As of this month, we have appropriate treatments in both an IV infusion and a pill,” Dr. Cauwels said. “Those supplies are now ramping up to the point where, I believe, by March, possibly April, we will have enough doses nationwide to make sure that we can treat people with this wherever they need to be treated.”

Until then, he said, there’s a sense of responsibility to make sure the rest of the world gets these resources to contribute to the overall decrease in pandemic suffering.

The ‘new normal’ of life with COVID

As the omicron variant has demonstrated, COVID-19 is here for awhile.

For a growing number of countries, this has led policymakers and governments to call for a shift in focus from a crisis mode to more long-term control.

Three former members of President Biden’s administration co-authored a proposal highlighting this concept in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The ‘new normal’ requires recognizing that (COVID-19) is but one of several circulating respiratory viruses that include influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and more,” the journal stated. “COVID-19 must now be considered among the risks posed by all respiratory viral illnesses combined.”

While numbers trend downward from the most recent surge and we learn more about what the future holds, Dr. Cauwels wanted to recognize colleagues and communities for their continued effort in the pandemic fight.

“Thank you to nurses who have been working hard for the last two years, to all of the doctors who continue to come to work every day and continue to do all of the things they needed to take care of patients,” he said. “To our patients who have been tremendously loyal, tremendously, and have been willing to come along with me and everybody else in Sanford in this journey as we try to navigate the change of what COVID is this week and how we understand it best.”

Information in this story was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Immunizations