Looking back to April 2020, I remember writing a column speculating on when the Covid-19 pandemic would end. At that time, most experts with whom I spoke anticipated an end to the virus in months.
And, of course, there was President Donald Thump ignorantly assuring us we would soon be hunting for colored eggs and eating chocolate rabbits because Covid-19 would vanish by Easter.
Cut to Gov. David Ige in his news conference Friday saying Covid-19 is going to with us a long time, maybe forever.
He said, “We will have to live with Covid for the near term and for years and years to come.”
The governor was explaining to news reporters why some pandemic restrictions would remain in place while he was relaxing others.
Epidemiologists’ expectation is that the current Covid-19 pandemic will eventually transform into an endemic phase, meaning it becomes a manageable disease — no longer a deadly scourge with potential to overwhelm hospital systems and rack up huge body counts.
Medical experts say the move from a pandemic Covid to an endemic Covid will happen at different places at different times, depending on the availability of vaccines.
The message remains the same: the key to controlling Covid is widespread vaccination.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, in an interview, said it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Covid could become a manageable endemic disease in Hawaii, but he said if vaccination rates rise to more than 90% — with children getting vaccinated and wider acceptance of booster shots than he currently sees — it might be possible by next summer.
But Miscovich says that forecast could change if Covid-19 evolves into a worse strain or transforms into an entirely new virus, requiring researchers to develop another vaccine.
The problem with setting a metric to signal the end of Covid danger is the virus is a constantly moving target and vaccination rates in many parts of the world continue to remain low.
He is confident Hawaii eventually will be able to move to an endemic phase because of the general willingness here to get vaccinated.
Miscovich is a national expert on Covid-19. His firm, Premier Medical Group Hawaii, has administered 5.5 million Covid tests in 21 states. He was the Covid-testing director for the U.S. teams in the Olympics.
Despite his optimistic view, Miscovich forecasts there will be yet another surge of Covid-19 — coming from January to April, sparked after the Christmas holiday season in areas where vaccination rates continue to remain low, such as Wahiawa, the Waianae Coast and the southern part of Hawaii island.
In the same news conference Friday when the governor announced an easing of certain restrictions, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi also spoke of Covid as remaining here for a long time.
Blangiardi said, “Covid is not going to go away. It is in our lives. It is here to stay.”
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that most of the people it surveyed — 79% — also share the view that Covid will become a permanent part of our lives.
The survey respondents said they expect people in the U.S. will learn to live with Covid-19 like a seasonal flu, controlling it with annual vaccinations and medical treatments, but that some people still will get very sick and die each year.
About 15% of respondents said they were angry thinking about that outcome.
Only 14% in the Kaiser survey said they thought the coronavirus could be eliminated like polio.
Epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller said he expects Covid to continue circulating in the United States forever, but that eventually it will become a manageable threat with fewer people getting seriously ill and far fewer dying.
Miller is a professor emeritus at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii.
He quotes the wording his friend, the physician and epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant, used for a title in a recent co-authored article in Foreign Affairs, “The Forever Virus.”
Miller said one reason Covid-19 cannot be eradicated is that it is animal borne. Brilliant writes it is already growing in more than a dozen animal species, including monkeys, cats and deer. That’s not to say the virus will be jumping automatically from the animals to humans, but to emphasize that certain animals are holding reservoirs of the virus that causes Covid-19.
“We can talk about bringing it under control but nobody is talking about eradicating it,” Miller said.
Miller said the key problem still is too many people in Hawaii and in the rest of the world remain unvaccinated but he anticipates a time when there is more immunity from vaccinations and from Covid exposure; then it will become routine for people to receive a Covid vaccine dose in the same injection with their annual flu shot. And if anyone gets sick, most infections will not be severe.
“It will be no drama, just like flu shots already are in our lives today. That is about as good as it will get,” he said.
I like the way epidemiologist Brilliant puts it: “Rather than die out, the virus will likely ping-pong back and forth across the globe for years to come.”
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