How do we know when it will end – and does it even matter?
It seems like a long time has passed since the epidemic started. And now, as much as life looks like it did before the pandemic, it’s fair to wonder: Is it over? It certainly seems like it—even the president said so in September, and COVID precautions have been barely observed in some places.
Still, thousands of new COVID-19 infections and hundreds of related deaths continue to occur in our country every day. So, Is Is it really over? And what changes if that determination is ever made formally?
The start of the pandemic is difficult to define; same goes for the end of it
When the pandemic began, I thought declaring the end would be straightforward: experts would calculate conditions that marked a starting line, and once those conditions dissipated, the pandemic would officially end. .
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
As strange as it may sound, there is no single, unanimous definition of a pandemic that is used by all countries, public health agencies and world leaders.
The word itself comes from the Greek words pan (meaning all) and nation (meaning people), which makes sense: a key feature of a pandemic is that it can affect almost everyone. More common definitions include:
- An outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (several countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population (Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary)
- A sudden outbreak that becomes widespread and affects an entire region, a continent, or the world because of a susceptible population (MedicineNet.com)
- a disease prevalent throughout a country, continent, or world (dictionary.com)
These standard definitions are not particularly specific; Exactly, what does “multiple countries” or “an entire region” mean? How prevalent (widespread) does a disease have to be for it to be considered an epidemic?
And even if we all agree on its definition, no one person, government agency or public health organization has the authority to declare that a pandemic has begun or ended.
Moving from pandemic panic to endemic acceptance
Some have suggested that a pandemic is over when everyone is behaving as if it is: there are no more precautions, restrictions or changes in behavior than in the period before it began. But if it is true, people weary of restrictions, or skeptical about their value, may ignore the recommendations and make the assumption that the pandemic is over – even in the US And significant numbers of daily cases and deaths continue to rise around the world. Looks like we’re right there with COVID.
Many epidemics eventually become endemic, meaning that the infection is still present in a region or population, but its behavior is predictable and the number of cases and deaths no longer increase. Learning to live with the virus is a key feature of endemic viruses; Think flu or even the common cold. But it is probably true that the transition from epidemic to endemic can only be recognized after it has occurred.
What to do until the COVID pandemic is clearly behind us?
It doesn’t make sense to set a fixed end date on this pandemic anyway. What matters most is the number of ongoing infections, suffering and death, and what measures we should take to avoid infection. No one can say whether there will be a decline in infections in the coming winter months, a continuation of the current situation (with hundreds of deaths and thousands of new infections every day in the US), or an increase in illness and death as more people are under relaxed precautions. with.
Common-sense precautions still make sense, including:
- Keep up to date with your vaccinations.
- Move indoor activities outside if possible and avoid indoor crowds, especially if you live in a place with a high or rising number of COVID-19 cases.
- Wear a well-fitting mask in high-risk areas (such as traveling in crowded conditions, crowded indoor settings, or traveling on public transportation). Just because masking is no longer needed, it is not a good idea to throw away your mask.
- Isolate yourself if you test positive for COVID-19 (or if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and have not yet been tested). If you test positive for COVID-19, see a doctor to decide whether you should take antiviral treatment.
It’s possible that experts will one day agree on a standard definition of “pandemic” and how to mark its arrival and departure. Already, policies related to the pandemic (including financial aid), and efforts to increase vaccination acceptance, are complicated by suggestions we have passed the pandemic when we in fact have not.
There is still much uncertain about the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, one thing seems clear: We can’t call it the end just yet.