Updated: Sep 19, 2022
If not, how will we truly know when we reach the endemic phase?
Many of us clearly remember the approximate beginning of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Sometime in March of 2020 is when our world changed. I remember this for two reason reasons. First, in mid-March 2020 the president of the college I was working at asked if I could head the task force that would lead the campus response to the virus. Second, my wife, daughter and I all experienced our first (yes first) bout of COVID_19 at the end of that March. The World Health Organization (WHO) first called COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020.
But will we know when the pandemic truly ends? Has it ended? Will we know when we move from the pandemic phase to the endemic phase? One study recently released by Yale University identifies 2024 or four years from the start of the pandemic, as the likely beginning of the endemic phase and as a result the end of the pandemic https://news.yale.edu/2022/07/05/covid-19-endemic-stage-could-be-two-years-away.
Many people have mentally moved on regardless of the answer to these questions. For others, they may never move on. There is no doubt that from this point forward many people will continue to wear masks in settings where there are large gatherings of people. Places like airports, athletic events, classrooms, and retail stores. Social distancing has increased in our smaller group or individual encounters. It is now common to get a fist pump rather than a handshake or a hug. Every individual has had a different response to what they experienced over the past 18-24 months and therefore how they respond will be unique. But just like the confusion and disagreement regarding the science at the beginning of the pandemic (ex. the nursing home tragedies) or at the time that the vaccines were initially rolled out (ex. the belief that the vaccinated were immune from the virus), I assume there will be continued disagreement within the scientific community and certainly among people like you and I about when the next phase has begun.
The vaccination data among college students is very interesting and, in many ways, demonstrates the challenges scientists will have in determining the end of the pandemic. A University Business (@Universitybiz) article released this week https://universitybusiness.com/yes-82-of-college-students-are-fully-vaccinated-but-is-that-enough/ sites the American College Health Association (@ACHA_tweets) as reporting that 82% of college students have gotten at least two doses of one of the vaccines. However, one in seven remain unvaccinated, and the 62% of those that have been fully vaccinated have not had a booster and don’t plan to have one in the future.
The previously mentioned Yale study also indicates that when we reach the endemic phase, we should expect slightly more than 15% of the population will still become infected with the COVID-19 virus on an annual basis. These positive cases will include those that are vaccinated, unvaccinated, vaccinated but not boosted, and certainly some that have previously tested positive for the virus. I can't imagine that the 15% of those who will test positive annually will be so evenly spread out across all strata of society that it'll eliminate any concern that the pandemic has returned.
How did those that survived the Influenza (Spanish Flu) Pandemic of 1918 know that it had ended? Maybe as a result of the post-traumatic stress of living through a pandemic we just live with uncertainty until it just fades away. It will be truly interesting to see 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and 30 years from now how society thinks about and lives with COVID-19. For now I will be patiently waiting for the news in the spring of 2024 that the COVID-19 pandemic has ended...then waiting for others to disagree.