Covid likely to stick around as ‘endemic’ virus

It’s not a ‘one-and-done’ event, infectious disease physician says

Concept 3d Illustration Of Coronavirus DiseaseAs Covid-19 continues to ease its grip on New Hampshire and beyond, people can see a light at the end of the tunnel through vaccination, fewer safety protocols and the go-ahead for group activities.

Even as cases dwindle, health experts say, the virus will continue to affect our lives. However, the state’s response — like others nationwide — has started shifting from pandemic mode to an “endemic” one.

“We all know that this was not going to go away, where this is a one-and-done and we are done with Covid,” said Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. “The eventual goal would be to see it being an endemic phenomenon … where it reaches certain people, but never to pandemic proportions.”

Pandemics are declared by the World Health Organization on a global scale, and Covid’s pandemic status will likely “continue for some time,” according to Laura Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

In the Granite State, Montenegro said transitioning Covid-19 from a pandemic to an endemic response will include fewer restrictions for vaccinated residents and the upcoming closures of state-run vaccination sites. (Keene’s site at 62 Maple Ave. will remain operational under the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network.)

An endemic disease is one that’s consistently present in an area, making its spread more predictable.

Malaria, for example, is an endemic in Africa and other parts of the world where mosquitos carry the parasite.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said an endemic response will be similar to what people have already seen in the past few months, such as lifting mask requirements.

“People now can function, particularly those who are vaccinated, in a much freer way, and I think people are, with enthusiasm, going back to some reasonable semblance of people returning to their normal lives,” Schaffner said.

Khole, of Cheshire Medical, called Covid-19’s shift to endemic status “inevitable.”

“Covid-19 is not going away for a while. But the faster we move it towards becoming an endemic virus, it makes it easy for us to return to normalcy without overwhelming our resources, our community and society as a whole,” he said in an email.

Khole added that this shift is crucial for hospitals, as it allows staff to take care of all ailments, not just Covid-19.

“The faster more people get vaccinated, the quicker this will happen,” he said.

As for when things will return to how they were pre-pandemic, Khole said it’s difficult to predict.

“It looks as though this [downward] trajectory will continue, but again, it’s hard to say,” he said. “I know there are predictions … but I don’t think we can give a set date as to where everything will be back to normal.”

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