By Ally A-L. ’23
Editor’s Note: This article is not meant to serve as a substitute for medical or professional advice regarding Covid-19.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last year watching the news, reading the paper, and clicking on article headlines, anxiously hoping for a news site to forecast the much-anticipated news that there’s a foreseeable end to the coronavirus pandemic. Although the period of shelter-in-place is thankfully long gone and normal activity has essentially resumed, the presence of masks, continuing paranoia over sickness, and appearance of new variants over the last few months suggest the pandemic will endure long past initially predicted. So when will the pandemic finally end? Experts say potentially next year.
It’s important to note that the end of the pandemic likely doesn’t mean the eradication of SARS-CoV-2. “It’s very unlikely that we’re ever going to be able to get rid of Covid,” Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA, advised NBC. The most probable outcome is that the coronavirus will evolve into an endemic illness— a disease that’s always present, but limited to a particular region of the globe at a given time. Dealing with Covid as an endemic illness would be dramatically different from the last two years of pandemic life, and epidemiologists say we already have the tools to make this a reality.
The most efficacious tool in slowing the virus is inoculations. As of early December, 65% of Americans ages five and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, explains that high vaccination rates are crucial in diminishing the threat of the virus because they reduce the severity of its effects. “As more people get infected, vaccinated and reinfected, the severity of illness will gradually decline because of accumulating immunity,” the professor said. Many infectious disease experts compare the future of Covid to the current state of the influenza virus, a seasonal illness that is prominent in colder months. If Covid reaches this stage, it will likely require yearly booster shots, much like the annual flu vaccine.
In terms of mask-wearing, the forecast looks much the same. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends wearing masks in public indoor spaces where community transmission of Covid is “substantial or high.” This transmission rate is defined as 50 new cases weekly per 100,000 residents, a threshold which 85% of United States counties are still meeting. The safest practice is to keep masks on throughout the holiday travel season, which will likely bring case spikes, and while the majority of young children are still being vaccinated. Experts say as of now that it’s likely we’ll be able to ease off of habitual indoor masking in 2022, but eliminating them forever may not happen. Voluntary mask-wearing will continue to be helpful in certain circumstances, such as during future cold and flu seasons. Richard Stutt of the University of Cambridge predicts mask-wearing on an as-needed community basis: “If a region or particular community is having an outbreak, then I think it would make a lot of sense for people within that community to be wearing masks even if, nationally, things are fairly under control,” Dr. Stutt said. Many of these decisions will likely come on a local level as each state and region is left to decide which guidelines are appropriate for their situation.
Despite all of these precautions, it’s nearly impossible to perfectly foretell the future of the disease, as the virus has a mind of its own. Over the last two years, SARS-CoV-2 has acquired a variety of mutations, many of which allow the virus to become more contagious. One such variant is Omicron, a new adaptation of Covid that has created widespread concern because of its easy transmission rate as compared to earlier variants. The surge in Omicron cases has prompted international travel restrictions and a rise in hospitalizations, but early research conducted on the variant indicates that it appears to be less severe than those before it. The virus will likely continue to evolve, but with widespread vaccinations, safety measures to prevent airborne transmission, and an increase in viral surveillance, we can increase our likelihood of being able to curb the virus’s domination, scientists affirm.
Although certain aspects of public life will undoubtedly be permanently changed due to the coronavirus, it’s safe to say that the current pandemic state will not last forever. However, until the disease is more widely contained, it’s in the general welfare’s best interests to continue to take safety precautions in the hopes of seeing improvement in the new year.
Categories: Science & Tech