Will COVID-19 plague us forever? Here’s what the experts say

Mannequins wearing protective face masks in the window of a supply store in downtown Perris. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG) 

Years from now, when 2020 is a distant memory, a face mask will still dangle from your rear-view mirror, one epidemiologist predicts.

“As long as any of your readers are alive, we’ll have some form of COVID,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and demographer at UC Irvine, whose crystal ball on the pandemic has been unnervingly accurate.

“That’s not to suggest we’re going to have half-a-million deaths a year and clog emergency departments. Things will settle down — mostly on the back of a million dead Americans who can’t die twice, disproportionally people who lost the genetic lottery and have some cell receptor that’s particularly interactive with this virus.

“But COVID is going to be here,” he said. “There won’t be masking orders coming down from the government, but some will have masks dangling from their rear-view mirrors for the rest of their lives.”

As the omicron variant’s stunning infectiousness sends case counts soaring, some glass-half-full experts opine it may push us more swiftly from pandemic to endemic — which, translated, means morphing from pants-on-fire emergency to persistently annoying background noise.

Creativity is encouraged in Redlands’ DIY face mask contest for seniors. (Staff File Photo) 

Others scoff.

“It’s pushing us more swiftly into a raging pandemic with no guarantee that endemicity is around the corner,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley, by email.

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“I don’t have sufficient hubris to say that it will be with us forever. Still, it will be with us for a long time but in what form (e.g., more like a cold) is anyone’s guess.”

UCLA professor of medicine and epidemiology Dr. Timothy F. Brewer isn’t sure there’s a meaningful distinction between pandemic and endemic at this point in COVID-19 anyway.

“After 40 years, is HIV still a pandemic or is it endemic?” Brewer asked. “Does it matter to how we should or do respond to HIV? What is clear is that, unlike SARS and MERS, SARS-CoV-2 is efficiently transmitted from human to human, which makes elimination problematic.”

Berkeley’s Swartzberg expects that, in the long term, vaccines will protect us from serious illness, and we’ll come to accept getting a cold from it. “Still,” he said, “I suspect I’ll never be on public transportation again without a mask.”

‘Like the flu’

The flu is endemic. That means it’s always there. Immunity isn’t robust enough to deny the virus a host, but vulnerability isn’t so great that infections spread like wildfire.

Endemicity is possible with COVID-19, but when that will happen is anyone’s guess, said Richard Carpiano, a public health scientist and medical sociologist at UC Riverside.

“In general, endemicity can come about from several factors, such as high rates of vaccination and prior infection conferring a significant amount of immunity in the population as well as lower transmissibility of a virus. However, for COVID, the omicron variant is more infectious than prior variants and is re-infecting people who previously …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment

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