With White House officials having recently announced that the COVID-19 public health emergency status will be coming to an end later this year in mid-May (via The New York Times), it has left the public with questions as to when we can expect the current pandemic to be downgraded to an endemic. "This is a very interesting question and I understand the reason why those outside the scientific community are asking this type of question," Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, and Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U, stated in an interview with Health Digest.
Dr. Siddiqui starts off by explaining the difference between an endemic and an epidemic. "The word endemic refers to a constant amount of the specific disease that is occurring or usually present in a geographic location. Where[as] [an] epidemic is on number of cases exceeding the background rate," he states.
Dr. Siddiqui points out that we appear to be nearing the end stages of what would qualify as a pandemic. "My point is that we are in the last phase of a pandemic," Dr. Siddiqui goes on to tell Health Digest. "We then need to establish a normalized background rate. Once we establish that background rate, meaning that there are X number of cases every month, then we can say [that] Covid is occurring at an endemic state or rate," Dr. Siddiqui further explains. "Predictable number of cases per month [will] then say the disease has moved into an endemic state."
Data regarding monthly case numbers will be the determining factor
Unlike the flu, however, Dr. Siddiqui says we don't yet have decades' worth of data regarding COVID rates to determine what the new "normal" range of monthly case numbers will be. Even so, Dr. Siddiqui states that we appear to be in what he describes as the post peak phase of the pandemic. "At this time in the United States we are likely in the latter stages of the pandemic, referred to as the post peak phase," he explains. Differentiating between the post peak phase and the post pandemic phase, Dr. Siddiqui further states, "This [post peak] phase of the pandemic is characterized by the possibility of recurrent events. The post pandemic phase is characterized by the disease's activity at seasonal levels." However, he emphasizes that we are not yet in the post pandemic phase.
Although the U.S. may be emerging out of the worst stages of the pandemic, Dr. Siddiqui states that COVID-19 is still likely to stick around for the time being, as the nature of the virus has repeatedly proven to be unpredictable. "What we know for certain is that SARS-CoV-2 has not gone away and likely will not go away for the near future," he says. Dr. Siddiqui concludes the interview by stating that masking, staying home when sick, and getting tested if you feel ill are among the best ways to continue to protect oneself from infection.