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OSU researchers weigh in on when COVID-19 pandemic could turn to an endemic

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Coronavirus Watch: OHA removes outdoor mask requirements

The most important indicator is the population death rate and case fatality rate, according to Chunhuei Chi, Sc.D., MPH at Oregon State University.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to slowly transition to an endemic once the world is able to effectively stop the spread of the virus. The big question is when will we get to that point and what has to happen before the pandemic is considered “over”.

“The most important indicator is the population death rate and case fatality rate; meaning, we have to bring down the current pandemic to a level comparable with the seasonal flu,” says Chunhuei Chi, Sc.D., MPH at Oregon State University.

In the U.S. the average annual seasonal flue fatality, according to Chi, has been around 40,000 to 50,000 a year; that’s the reference point and right now we are far from it.

“The politics are arguing this is becoming like the seasonal flu are intensely flawed,” says Chris Nichols, historian and associate professor of history, philosophy & religion at OSU, “we are seeing 2,000 deaths a day or 1,500 deaths a day and it’s not at all comparative right now and that’s a false comparison, in fact.”

Eventually, there won’t be as much focus on cases and the focus will transition to hospitalizations and deaths.

Right now, the main strategy against COVID-19 is vaccination but we could see more options in the coming year.

In 2020, when more than 100 pharmaceutical and bio-tech companies rushed to produce a vaccine, most were not successful and when they weren’t successful many turned to a different focus – treatment.

“By last summer some of the most promising ones entered phase two,” said Chi, referring to treatments being researched and produced, “I’m somewhat hopeful that besides a successful vaccine, we can expect to see more highly effective treatments as well.”

If omicron data showing less severe infection stands to be true, if the number of deaths and hospitalizations decline and if spread can slow; we could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m quiet hopeful, under those three conditions, we might see the end of the pandemic in late spring or December in some countries like North America and Europe but we still must help low-income countries contain it, otherwise we may see more infectious or more serious variants arise from other parts of the world,” says Chi.

“One of the definitions moving from a pandemic to an endemic is it doesn’t have global spread,” says Courtney Campbell with Oregon State University.

The U.S. has committed more than a billion vaccines for the global fight against COVID-19 but there are multiple countries that are only 5% vaccinated at this time so the likelihood of variants continuing to develop is high.