When experts talk about COVID one day being ‘endemic,’ here’s what they mean

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi slashed capacity at large indoor events Wednesday amid an ongoing COVID surge.
Updated: Jan. 5, 2022 at 5:42 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 2022 is the third calendar year the world is grappling with COVID.

And everyone wants to know: When could COVID become “endemic” like the flu ― circulating every year but not causing huge spikes in new infections along with big disruptions to society?

Here are two things scientists pretty much agree on:

  1. COVID is likely to become endemic, rather than dying out entirely.
  2. COVID isn’t endemic yet.

Some believe Omicron could help get us there, though.

It’s very contagious, which means many more people are catching it. And while it’s evading some immunity defenses, it also appears to be more mild than the Delta variant.

Those who are unvaccinated, however, are still at risk of severe disease from Omicron.

Dr. Victoria Fan, chair of the Hawaiian Pandemic Applied Modeling Work Group and an associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said it’s important to remember that Omicron is still a very real threat. It’s caused a very steep increase in cases ― and a rise in hospitalizations.

“In that sense, it’s not like the flu,” she said. “But when will it become like this seasonal thing that happens? It’s anybody’s guess when it so-called becomes endemic.”

Fan added, “And even though flu is endemic, there are some years where the flu is much worse than others and we still have many deaths from the flu.”

Ray Vera, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, said at a news conference Wednesday that there is optimism that Omicron could be moving the world closer to the end of the pandemic.

“It’s part of what I would consider the course of moving forward in terms of living in an endemic environment versus a pandemic environment,” he said.

“We’re seeing this variant and likely with future variants, what we will see is our ability to coexist and live with this get greater with each step of the process as long as we do our part.”

That means getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and avoiding big gatherings.

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