COVID-19 will become ‘endemic,’ experts say. But what does that mean? – Oklahoman.com

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Here’s when the new COVID-19 antiviral pill could become available

A new experimental antiviral drug has proven to cut COVID-19 infections in half and is effective against variants Gamma, Delta, and Mu.

Just the FAQs, USA TODAY

Even as the delta wave of COVID-19 appears to be subsiding, experts expect that COVID-19 will be with us — in some form or another — for a long time. 

The disease will likely become “endemic,” experts say, as opposed to a pandemic or epidemic. 

What’s the difference? A pandemic is when a disease spreads across multiple countries or even across the world and affects many people, like COVID-19 has. An epidemic is a sudden increase in cases of a disease, like when COVID-19 was first identified and began spreading in Wuhan, China.

When a disease is endemic, it “routinely rears its head on a regular or semi-regular basis, in a particular area,” Dr. Mary Clarke, the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Tuesday.

The idea that COVID-19 will become endemic means it won’t fully be eradicated, Clarke said.

More: COVID-19 vaccinations may have prevented over 1,000 deaths of Oklahoma seniors, report says

New COVID-19 cases have fallen dramatically over the past few weeks — the seven-day average of cases across Oklahoma was 1,222 on Tuesday, compared with more than 2,800 at the end of August. 

Hospitalizations are also declining, though COVID-19 deaths continue to mount. The statewide toll, having just surpassed 10,000 toward the end of September, is now hundreds higher at 10,723. 

More: As COVID-19 cases trend down in Oklahoma, state still struggling with lack of ICU beds

But it’s unclear whether the latest wave, fueled by the delta variant, will be the last major surge in the pandemic, Clarke said. 

“Unfortunately, we just can’t tell yet,” she said. “As we’ve seen before, it can be difficult to predict COVID waves, especially as new variants arise.”

More: Does the COVID-19 vaccine affect fertility or pregnancy? Oklahoma doctors offer advice

There’s still a lot we don’t know about what COVID-19 will look like post-pandemic, experts say.

“As COVID becomes endemic to our populations, we don’t really know what the seasonality is, what the pattern is going to be … what a unique variant might produce in terms of morbidity and mortality that would crop up in that cycle,” Dr. David Kendrick, founder and CEO of MyHealth Access Network, a statewide health information exchange, said on a recent Healthier Oklahoma Coalition call.

It’s also unclear what endemic COVID-19 could mean for immunity provided by vaccinations, Clarke said. Observations in the years to come about when and how the virus will fluctuate will help guide future recommendations about whether additional vaccinations are necessary.

“We now know almost two full years of what has happened with COVID-19, but we don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen four or five years down the road.” 

To find a COVID-19 vaccine appointment

Even as COVID-19 cases are declining, health officials have still stressed that COVID-19 vaccines are the best way to stay protected from severe illness and even death,

To arrange a vaccination appointment near you, go to vaccines.gov or the state’s vaccine scheduling portal at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov. COVID-19 vaccinations are free and available at a number of locations, including local health departments, pharmacies and grocery stores. Anyone 12 and older is eligible for one.

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