June 2, 2023
As the World Health Organization, United States, and countries around the world end the official COVID-19 health emergency, there is a consensus that COVID-19 is here to stay. You may be hearing less about a pandemic and more about endemic disease. But what exactly does that mean?
When a pathogen is new and causing widespread, often lethal disease in a number of locations and countries, it’s considered a pandemic. Once more people have immunity to the disease, it becomes less lethal, and infection rates stabilize, you have an endemic disease. Endemic diseases tend to be predictable and contained within specific regions. Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific date and time that a disease, such as COVID-19, transitions from pandemic to endemic. Different scientists and physicians may even disagree about when a disease transitions from one to the other, and a disease can transition back and forth from pandemic to endemic over time.
“These terms can be misleading,” says Amy Althoff, MD, an infectious disease physician and Medical Director of the Partnership for Comprehensive Care Practice at Drexel. “Although people are hoping to use the word endemic, we don’t know if or when we’ll reach that point. If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that we’re always trying to keep up with this virus and be flexible and humble with our approach due to its ability to mutate and change.”
So what do you need to know about the state of COVID-19 right now, and how can you stay healthy as you return to normal activities?
First and foremost, if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are at high risk for serious disease, talk to your doctor. There are a number of therapies, including oral medications, that can lessen symptoms and treat COVID-19.
While many institutions and businesses are no longer requiring COVID-19 vaccination, Dr. Althoff strongly recommends staying up to date on COVID vaccination and booster recommendations, especially for those people who may be at risk of serious disease. This includes individuals who are elderly or immunocompromised, as well as those with conditions like diabetes, obesity, asthma, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease, or heart disease.
Also, be aware that COVID-19 is still circulating in the population. Know your community’s transmission levels, avoid contact with people who have COVID, and stay home if you develop symptoms. As with any regularly circulating virus, practice good hand-washing hygiene and consider wearing a mask during times of higher risk to help stave off an infection. Also, be sure to stay healthy through diet and exercise to keep your immune system working at its best.
For more information about COVID-19 as well as vaccination and booster guidelines, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/end-of-phe.