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COVID-19 has been affecting people around the world for three summers. So at what point do we call it endemic – instead of pandemic?
VPM News Morning Anchor Phil Lyles talks with Chtaura Jackson, an epidemiologist with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts about where we are now with COVID-19.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
VPM News: Can you explain the difference between a pandemic and an endemic?
talk Jackson: A pandemic refers to an outbreak of disease that spreads across countries or a continent. And endemic means that the virus has a constant presence in a geographic region. But it’s also important to note that endemic is not synonymous with harmless. So you may have times where you may have a high number of registers and you may have a low number of registers. But it’s to the point where we can’t actually eradicate the disease. So it kind of stays with us. Many people refer to the flu, for example, as endemic. Every year we have different seasons, whether they’re really good or really bad, but the flu is with us so to speak, and it’s something that endemic means it’s a constant presence within a geographic region.
Have we reached endemic level with COVID-19?
We are in the process of relocating and preparing to transition to an endemic state. But to answer that question, it can be quite challenging to understand exactly where we are right now in the US with COVID. Because there are a number of factors that are used to determine the timeline of when COVID-19 will transition to an endemic state. And some of these factors include the strength and duration of immune protection from vaccinations and natural infection, patterns of contact with each other, they will allow the spread of virus transmission and the emergence of new variants. On the one hand, we have made a lot of progress and we have a lot of resources. But on the other hand, we have seen the levels of COVID-19 vary and new variants come on the scene.
So, in general, we encourage people not to really get wrapped up in the broader definition of transitioning to endemic disease. I know a lot of people want to move to an endemic to get back to their normal lives. Instead. I think people really need to focus on the community level of CDC COVID-19 within their community to determine if they need mitigation strategies or not.
Could you describe how the pandemic has evolved over the past few years? And, and how, how is the moment we are in now different from previous years?
What did we know in 2020, we knew that there was a new coronavirus and that we were just beginning to learn more about this virus. vaccines were not available in 2020. And testing was challenging to access in 2020. Moving into 2021, we had more data and a better overall understanding of how the virus works. Vaccines came on the scene in 2021 and have become increasingly available. We had progress in testing, but there was still a lack of widespread availability of home tests, which presented some challenges. We also had advances in treatment, and then more options. So specifically the Delta variant that causes more severe disease and is more portable Omicron Baron came out in 2021.
Now let’s look to 2022. Where are we? After experience, the various variants that have passed through the CDC began using the community level of COVID-19 to measure the presence of COVID in a given community. And they exploit this by looking at a combination of different rates. We look at the case rate, the number of cases per 100,000, we look at the hospitalization rate. And we’re also looking at hospitalization capacity. In addition, almost everyone can now be vaccinated. So, in general, anyone over six months old can be vaccinated as long as they are eligible to be vaccinated. Testing is much more affordable. And that includes home tests. We’ve seen a lot of changes. COVID continues to be a threat to our public health. But we also have more resources to be able to fight it.
Now, how do health officials currently measure the state of COVID-19 in our communities, and how should we make decisions about our activities based on the levels of COVID-19?
That’s a great question. So VDH is in line with the CDC, the CDC uses a metric called the community level of COVID-19 that categorizes cities and counties into low, medium, or high. These indicators are based on case rates, hospitalization rates and hospital capacity. There are also corresponding guidelines for each of the levels. So right now, Richmond Henrico and other parts of Central Virginia are at a high level of community right now. We recommend that people follow CDC guidelines to stay current on their vaccines, wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. However, it is always better to follow isolation and quarantine guidelines and increase ventilation if you are indoors rather than having to be outdoors.
What advice do you have for people living with COVID-19? And our communities in the medium and long term?
We encourage people to ride the wave of the pandemic, implementing more mitigating preventive measures during a higher level, when we are at a high level of community, and then to relax and enjoy more activities. During the times when we are at a lower level of the community level of COVID, it seems that it will be important to keep up with your COVID that you see. You can also follow the CDC and written in Henrico, help districts on social media to somehow keep up with what’s going on in your community. And they are usually updated every Thursday. And if you prefer to speak to a real person, you can also call our call center to chat if you have any questions.