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When is the COVID-19 pandemic over? Medical experts say it depends on 'what we're willing to endure'

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Posted at 5:47 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 20:47:55-04

CINCINNATI — A popular question asked of many medical experts right now is “When can we say the pandemic is over?” The answer isn’t what most people would expect.

“This will never be over,” said Dr. Steve Feagins, medical director for Hamilton County Public Health. “We will move from pandemic to endemic.”

That’s not as bad as it might sound. The answer is rooted in defining the difference between those two terms.

Feagins said a pandemic is an epidemic on multiple continents in which case spread is deadly and uncontained.

Endemic means something is always going to be around — like the flu — but the case numbers are manageable and do not rise above a certain level.

“For example, during the peak of the flu season, there are in this nation somewhere between 50 and 150 flu deaths a day for an average of 100,” Feagins said. “Today, there are an average of 600 COVID deaths per day. So, what is it we feel comfortable with? 300? 200? 600?”

He said it’s a case rate over death rate that determines when we will have moved from pandemic to endemic, not a number of people or percentage of people vaccinated.

“I was on a Zoom with Dr. Fauci and others where that very question was coming up, and it comes down to what we’re willing to endure,” Feagins said. “Universal mitigation is more difficult than the number of deaths. We don’t have a flu year-round — we just have those deaths during flu season. We’ll have the same with COVID.”