Since Philadelphia has lifted its indoor mask mandate, some residents may feel that COVID-19 restrictions are gone forever.
President Joe Biden expressed this optimism during his speech on the state of the Union on Tuesday, saying “COVID-19 no longer needs to control our lives.” But that does not mean that coronavirus is disappearing.
What many government officials expect – including Dr. Rochelle WalenskyDirector of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Acting Secretary of Health in Pennsylvania Keara Klinepeter – is that the virus becomes endemic.
But what does that mean? And is the United States, or even the Philadelphia region, there yet?
Although many people have come to associate the term with a wholehearted return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, scientists do not necessarily think to portray such a rosy vision when they use it.
Diseases become endemic when they are consistently present in a particular geographical area, but relatively predictable in terms of their potential to spread, CDC say.
More simply, a disease becomes endemic when it reaches “a point where the infection is no longer unpredictably disruptive,” Drs. Stuart Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Washington Post.
However, the fact that these diseases are considered endemic has no bearing on their severity or efficacy. There were 241 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2020; more than 600,000 people died. The flu kills thousands of Americans annual.
“Endemic does not mean it is not harmful,” Ray said. “It just means relatively stable and predictable.”
An epidemic involves a wave of cases exceeding the level typically seen in a specific geographic area, where cases often spread suddenly, the CDC says.
Yellow fever, smallpox, measles and polio have it all caused epidemics. The term has also been used to describe public health problems such as smoking and obesity.
Pandemics are epidemics that are growing to become an international or global phenomenon. The World Health Organization notes that they are defined by an exponential growth in case loads.
Epidemics and pandemics can be caused by new diseases, such as COVID-19, as well as those that have been endemic. The Spanish disease pandemic during World War I was caused by a particularly virulent H1N1 influenza virus.
For public health officials, deciding whether a disease has become endemic is more of an art than a science.
“There is no hard and fast rule for when a pandemic becomes an endemic,” Dr. Paul Goepfert, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told ABC News.
At present, it is still unclear where COVID-19 is in the transition to endemic disease, as another variant could potentially cause an exponential increase in cases at some point in the future.
There is still many parts of the state, including 15 Pennsylvania counties that meet the CDC’s definition of high transmission, meaning uniform indoor masking is recommended. But the CDC’s new masking guidelines, which are based on local transmission levels, are not necessarily unwise, McQuillen said.
The United States is going “from trying to prevent disease completely” to preventing “serious illness and hospitalizations” in an attempt to prevent health care from being overwhelmed, he said.
Although the virus will not enter an endemic phase any time soon, the nation is in a very different place when it comes to fighting COVID-19 than it was in March 2020.
Around the rain two-thirds of American adults are fully vaccinated and there are a handful of treatments available for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19.
In addition, there are new antiviral pills that can be prescribed to people who test positive and are at high risk of developing COVID-19. The Biden administration is working on implement a program where Pfizer’s pill would be given to individuals who tested positive at no cost.