How do we get from COVID-19 pandemic to endemic?

Experts say vaccines play big part, decrease in deaths is one metric to watch
By , KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise, showing the unpredictability of the coronavirus' spread. So where do we go from here?

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At some point we'll transition from pandemic to endemic, meaning we'll learn to live with the virus in the background rather than taking steps to actively limit its spread.

However, Einstein Montgomery chief medical officer Dr. Angie Nicholas said we're not there yet, though the vaccines continue to be very effective at preventing severe disease and illness.

"If you remember what the ICUs looked like back a year ago, around this time, [they were] pretty bad. We had a lot of patients in the intensive care unit being to take care of on ventilators, we don't really see that now," she said.

Nicholas said some counties, though, are better than others when it comes to the number of people who are vaccinated.

As for what metrics to watch, Montgomery County Office of Public Health medical director Dr. Richard Lorraine said total case numbers remain the most important. But, while noting the loss of life is tragic, he said he is also watching the number of deaths.

"The relative amplitude of the number of deaths, which I'm looking as a marker of severity, is decreasing with each wave and over the passage of time," he said, "and this is what I'm projecting as the transition from the pandemic to the endemic."

Lorraine noted vaccines were a big step, including vaccines for children, which not only kept kids safe, but helped limit disruption to schools and other activities. He said the antiviral pills on the horizon from Merck and Pfizer could be equally large.

He added mitigation efforts work, demonstrated by a near-total lack of flu cases last year. Lorraine hopes some of those measures, like frequent handwashing, stick around once the endemic begins.

"People who are sick need to stay home, not go to work, not go to school," he urged. Lorraine said that isn't just on employees, and that employers need to be understanding when workers call out sick.

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