Safety protocols such as mask wearing may remain even after COVID-19 goes into a more endemic stage.
Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images Experts say the rapid spread of the Omicron variant may help the COVID-19 pandemic transition into a more endemic stage where a disease is present but manageable.
They say high immunity levels from vaccinations and previous infections could slow the spread of the virus and make it more similar to the flu, although COVID-19 would not be seasonal like influenza.
They add that some safety protocols such as mask wearing and smaller indoor gatherings could remain commonplace.
COVID-19 has taught us the meaning of the word “pandemic”: an outbreak of disease on a global scale.
There’s a good chance, however, that COVID-19 may evolve into something completely different: an endemic disease, where an illness is always present in a community, a population, or — in the case of COVID-19 — everywhere in the world.
Perhaps ironically, the rapid spread of the Omicron variant could help push COVID-19 into endemic status as soon as a few months from now, experts say.
There are predictions that the current Omicron surge will peak in the United States by mid-January.
Some experts note that cases have declined significantly in South Africa, where the variant was first reported in late November.
“To get from a pandemic to endemic, the population level of immunity has to rise to herd immunity,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medi-cine at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told Healthline.
“The more contagious the virus, the higher level of herd immu-nity you need to tamp it down until it just smolders.
”The Omicron variant is spreading so rapidly and widely that it’s conceivable that enough people will have some degree of immunity via vaccination or past infection, and the COVID-19 pandemic could begin to fizzle.
“If we don’t have a new variant that shows up, then we could have some level of endemic by early 2022,” said Schaffner.
“COVID-19 will likely become an endemic disease,” said Erica Susky, an infection control and hospital epidemiology expert based in Toronto, Canada.
“If a disease does not become endemic, the only other scenario is for the disease to be eliminated,” Susky told Healthline.
“With all that is occurring in the current pandemic, it is evident that SARS-CoV-2 is excellent at human-to-human transmission, cannot be ceased in transmission with any of our current public health measures, and will continue to circulate, likely indefinitely.”
Experts are looking at Omicron as the potential pathway to endemic status because it spreads easily but does not seem to be quite as deadly as some past variants.