22 Questions in 2022: When does COVID become an endemic?

Published 3:30 pm Sunday, February 27, 2022

As COVID-19 cases continue to fall around the country — including in Georgia and Troup County — medical experts are starting to consider whether we might’ve reached endemic stages.

The words — pandemic and endemic — are very similar but in medical terminology, the difference in meanings is pretty important. Endemic would mean that COVID-19 would be a lot like the flu — something we’ve learn to live with in our average, everyday life, rather than a sickness that would shut down an entire way of life for an extended period of time.

The numbers, at least in middle to late February, show that the latest variant, Omicron, is starting to wane, which has led to the questions about the status of the pandemic.

On Jan. 18, Troup County was average 54 new cases of COVID-19 per day, according to numbers from the Georgia Department of Public Health. As of Feb. 18, Troup County had 133 cases of COVID-19 over the last two weeks, a major drop.

And really, the drop appears to be even further than those numbers reflect. The Georgia Department of Public Health’s graph showing Troup County’s case rate looks the steep fall off a side of a mountain, and this is even a more defined drop than seen during other waves of this pandemic.

But when does a virus, like COVID-19, officially hit endemic stage?

“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, a few weeks ago. “There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus.”

Of course, there are many different factors that play a role on when a pandemic could reach endemic status. One is the number of fully vaccinated people, which according to the CDC, was at 64.7% of the United States population on Feb. 21. According to GDPH, in Troup County, the percentage of fully vaccinated people is at 38%, well below the state and national percentages.

The other major variable is whether or not there’s another variant on the horizon following the milder Omicron. So far, one hasn’t been identified, but a stronger variant could result in a very different stretch ahead.