When could COVID actually be just a seasonal illness?

Woman tossing mask stock photo.
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As we head into our third summer of COVID-19, few Americans believe the pandemic is still a “serious crisis,” and many may be wondering when it will finally fade into a seasonal illness such as the flu.

According to experts – including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden – it is not clear when, if ever, the novel coronavirus will get to that point.

“We don’t know, because nothing is really certain, and this virus has fooled us multiple times in the past,” Fauci recently told CBS News when asked when SARS Co-V 2 might become endemic, referring to illnesses that are constantly maintained at a baseline level. For example, cold viruses, which are also caused by coronaviruses, are endemic.

Some endemic illnesses are seasonal, meaning they peak at certain times of the year. Most seasonal viruses peak in the winter. Though it is not clear why, winter spikes may be due to the fact that viruses typically spread in dry conditions and that people spend more time inside, closer together, during colder months.

Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and demographer who studies infectious diseases at University of California, Irvine, told the Huffington Post that COVID-19 may never become seasonal.

“I can’t absolutely rule out that it never will — that it will be the one exception that disproves the rule,” he said.

However, Noymer’s guess is that COVID-19 will become a seasonal problem that surges in the wintertime.

“In the United States, all of the largest spikes have been in the winter, so it is kind of seasonal in that respect,” he explained.

Most experts believe that COVID-19 is something that we will live with for the foreseeable future. Since it is still a new virus, COVID doesn’t seem to have settled into a seasonal pattern. Last summer there was a significant spike fueled by the highly infectious delta variant of the virus, followed by another spike fueled by the omicron variant over the winter holiday season.

“COVID is steadily burning through the population as we speak. Mark Cameron, an infectious disease researcher at Case Western Reserve, told the Huffington Post this week. But it is also able to piggy back on top of our ebbs and flows of the typical cold and flu season, so it’s a double whammy.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID cases were up this week and deaths were down. The U.S. also surpassed 1 million total deaths from the virus since the start of the pandemic this week.

Like Noymer, Cameron expects COVID-19 to eventually become a seasonal or at least endemic guest in our lives. When this might happen is still a mystery.

“It certainly isn’t now,” he said.

This might be hard to hear for the 75% of partisans in a recent Ipsos poll who said they are interested in the country’s regulations “opening up with the plurality.”

Fauci explained that getting COVID-19 to the endemic phase really means that “has to be at a low enough level that it doesn’t disrupt society the way it has done so dramatically over the past two and a half years.”

Though the timeline is hazy, he noted that the U.S. has already made progress lowering cases with under 70% of the population fully vaccinated. As more people develop immunity to the virus, the less likely it is to cause hospitalizations and deaths.