“I think the transition from pandemic to endemic seems to be accelerating,” said Dr. William Schaffner, Professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The CDC recently changed how it measures societal levels.
The agency’s old measurements looked mostly at infection levels. As the United States has moved to more manageable phase, infection alone did not capture the full effect of Covid-19 and the level of necessary restrictions. Now the CDC measures these levels by including infection rates and hospital capacity.
Using the new measurements, CDC data show that more than 90% of US residents live in a low or medium Covid-19 community level.
A CNN analysis of the data shows that only 7% of the US population is in a county with high Covid-19 community levels.
“The case rate is not very low, but they are low enough and the hospital capacity is good enough that it is appropriate to roll back many of the restrictions. Looking at these figures right now, for spring and summer, there is a lot of hope, “said Amber D’Souza, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “This would not have looked so good two or three months ago in the middle of the wave.”
In other words, in large parts of the country, the metrics mean that there is a significantly lower risk of you getting sick from Covid-19.
The rise is coming to an end … but?
“This means that the current increase is slowing down, which is great news,” said epidemiologist Syra Madad, senior director of the systemic program for special pathogens at NYC Health + Hospital. “But,” and after going through the pandemic of the last few years, you knew there would be a “but.”
“I think it’s really important to state that when people look at society’s transmission levels as being low, it does not mean it’s zero,” Madad said.
In areas considered to have a high Covid-19 community level, people need to take the usual pandemic precautions, she said. In areas of low or medium level, masks and physical distance practices can be safely lost. But only for some, not all people.
“Of course with low levels of the virus circulating in the community, there is a reduced chance that you will come in contact with someone who may be contagious, but that does not mean your risk is zero,” Madad said.
“We know that an end to an increase does not mean an end to the pandemic,” Madad said.
Deaths due to Covid-19 have fallen 11% from last week, but the United States still has an average of 1,554 new deaths each day, according to Johns Hopkins University. It is much worse than a disease like the flu, experts said
“There are a lot of people dying every day from coronavirus. It remains a very serious infectious disease. But we have made tremendous progress,” D’Souza said.
Some of the progress comes from the tools the country has developed to deal with the pandemic. Tests and treatments have become easier to access, and the Biden administration promises that more are on the way. But experts warn that even when cases fall, people should still look for signs that they are sick with Covid-19. Therapeutics only work if a person who is ill quickly gains access to them.
“You know if it’s monoclonal antibodies or medication, if you think you’re sick, you still need to be tested right away,” said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of pediatric infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. “It is also important to remember that there are still people who are vulnerable to serious illness.”
“Right now we are in a really good place and we should take advantage of it, but we should not forget those who are vulnerable and who should take the appropriate precautions,” Hoyen said.
It is unlikely that Covid-19 will be eradicated for the time being. People still need to be flexible and put on masks and practice physical distance again if the Covid-19 case level gets high in their area, experts said.
However, if another variant does not come and evade existing vaccines and therapeutic agents, the new CDC numbers may mean that the end of the pandemic phase of Covid-19 is near.
“Obviously it’s not over yet. There are still people we need to protect,” Hoyen said. “But hopefully, maybe, just maybe this is the beginning of the end. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”