As we head into the third year of dealing with COVID-19, experts seem to agree that the virus that has been dominating our lives isn’t going away any time soon. But that doesn’t mean that we will be living through a pandemic forever. The hope is that advances like COVID-19 vaccines and new treatment options will help us move into a new state, an endemic state. But what is the difference between these two states of disease spread and what does this change mean for our lives?
Many experts say that COVID will likely lose its “pandemic” status sometime in 2022, due largely to rising global vaccination rates the widespread, less lethal, infection with the Omicron variant. “If the virus does become more seasonal, wearing a mask on public transit and indoors during COVID season could become the new normal and other familiar prevention strategies, like regularly washing your hands and maintaining distancing practices in high-risk settings, could also stick around during seasonal spikes,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, Chief Medical Officer of the American Lung Association.
Epidemic vs Pandemic
An outbreak is a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease more than normal expectancy in a community or geographical area. An outbreak can be declared an epidemic when the disease spreads rapidly to many people.
In December of 2019, the news was full of reports of an epidemic in Wuhan, China. Similar to an outbreak, an epidemic is defined by being contained in a small population, but the number of cases is larger than normally expected. Other examples of epidemics in our modern world include yellow fever, smallpox, and West Nile. Epidemics can also describe things that aren’t contagious like teen vaping or obesity.
Many epidemics can be contained and do not spread worldwide. But this was not the case for SARS-CoV-2, a virus which quickly became more widespread, with cases present worldwide. The number of people affected was exponentially growing and the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded COVID-19 to a pandemic in March 2020.
Pandemics are known to cause large-scale social disruption, economic loss, and general hardship, and COVID-19 has been no exception. Early on, people found themselves quarantined in their homes for long periods of time, isolated from friends and loved ones until experts could find a way to control the spread of the infection.