Many people are wondering, “When will COVID end?” A better question to answer may be “Will it ever end or become like the seasonal flu and always be with us?” As case numbers begin to rise in some states and the 2021-2022 flu season approaches, here is what we currently know in regards to when the pandemic will end and answers to key questions surrounding the topic, such as:
When did the COVID-19 pandemic start?
Will COVID end in 2021?
What can my community do to help bring an end to the pandemic?
Will herd immunity be reached?
What would it mean for COVID-19 to become an endemic?
Certain key events shaped the timeline of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
On January 21, 2020, the CDC confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the United States.
On January 31, 2020, the White House declared a public health emergency due to the emerging pandemic.
On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic.
On March 13, 2020, former President Trump declared COVID-19 to be a national emergency.
Originally, some experts estimated that we would reach herd immunity with a certain percentage of the population receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. With herd immunity, the virus would have difficulty passing from one individual to another, which would, hypothetically, mean we would look forward to the pandemic ending in 2021. However, while there is no widely agreed upon number for COVID-19 herd immunity, the United States has 50.7% of the population fully vaccinated as of August 15, 2021, well below some estimates of 60-70% needed for herd immunity.
Additionally, COVID-19 variants such as the Delta variant have made the possibility of herd immunity unclear.
Despite over half of the population (168.3 million Americans, 50.7%) being fully vaccinated as of August 15, 2021, some medical experts are concerned that because the Delta variant is highly transmissible, a much higher percentage of vaccination is needed for herd immunity, which the country may not reach due to factors such as vaccine hesitancy and no vaccines currently being available for children under 12.
Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, spoke with CNBC and emphasized that even if herd immunity is not reached, “the more people on the globe effectively vaccinated, the fewer viral copies we’ll have on the planet, thus the less spread and fewer lungs in which for virus to mutate and spread the next wave of variants.”
According to the CDC, the best way to fight the emergence of variants like the Delta variant is preventing the spread of infection with measures like getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Moving forward, the answer to “Will the pandemic end?” will likely require resetting expectations of what that goal means. Many experts state that COVID-19 may not go away anytime soon; instead, it could become an endemic, similar to the influenza (flu) virus.
The difference between endemic and pandemic is that an endemic (not to be confused with epidemic) disease is usually one that is almost always present, but is localized to a certain region. A pandemic, on the other hand, usually refers to an exponential increase in the number of cases of a disease and tends to spread over multiple nations and continents.
As we see with the flu virus, that we especially notice during flu season, the flu is consistently present, but localized to a population or nation. In the future, COVID-19 may become something certain regions of the world have to contend with, but may be kept under control with health measures such as vaccinations.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the question of “When will COVID end?”, there are concrete steps that your community can take to stay safe and help life go back to normal.
Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments in your community by viewing CDC data for your county. Consider exercising an abundance of caution if COVID-19 cases are increasing in your county.