Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, will it become endemic?

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:
COVID Testing 4
A health care worker directs a person to use a nasal swab for a self administered test at a federally funded COVID-19 testing site at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium on July 23, 2020 in Miami. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic on March 11, 2020.

We spoke with one of the country’s leading analysts to talk about what’s next.

Do you recall the Asian flu (H2N2) of 1957? Probably not because it faded into obscurity, like the SARS CoV-1 outbreak. It is one possible end to our COVID nightmare, but not the most likely ending.

How do pandemics end? It’s a hot question right now as the COVID-19 battle seems never-ending.

Dr. Ira Longini, with the UF College of public health, suspected that we would still be dealing with COVID at this time, but didn’t think everybody could have accepted that news at the time.

Dr. Longini knows this virus very well. He’s a University of Florida biostatistician who specializes in modeling infectious disease and vaccine effectiveness. Thousands of different factors go into his computations.

“It integrates huge amount of data on humans, human behavior, movement, vaccines, the virus, the variants, human immunity, history reveals two paths to a pandemic’s end: some viruses simply disappear. Never to be seen again.” Dr. Longini said. “At least from the human population. For example, SARS-1. SARS-1 did in 2004.”

What is more likely is that COVID-19 with all its variations will be with us in some form forever. At that point, it becomes endemic or constantly circulating.

Dr. Longini explains, “The virus will find its way into the kind of pantheon of other viruses and become endemic and simply mix like other viruses, such as inter pandemic or seasonal influenza. There’s a sort of baseline normal number of cases it’s causing, and it’s relatively constant over time.”

This endemic end-game could be as near as one year, or as distant as a decade.

“It’s unpredictable,’ he added, “but it could, you know, within a year, or after about a year, become endemic. It could become endemic in the next few months. But we need the watch and see if more variants are going to emerge.”

The quickest resolution, Longini believes, will come by using vaccines and boosters. Along with appropriate social measures to manage sporadic outbreaks. Being responsive to a virus which is a master of reinvention.

As viruses make their way to becoming constant, they typically spread easily and are less deadly. Like we experienced with omicron.

But that’s not a hard-fast rule. A new variant could be worse and cause more severe sickness and death – all yet to be told.

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