We explore pandemics of the past, what transitioning to "endemic" means and how we need to reframe our view of COVID-19 moving forward.

How we live with COVID-19 moving forward

COVID-19 could be considered the “New Flu”. It’s time to plan on permanently adapting in schools, work, and social settings.

As spikes in cases and deaths from the COVID-19 coronavirus continue, it may be hard to envision the pandemic ending. Despite the relaxed restrictions and lockdowns ending, the virus is still spreading and evolving throughout the world.

However, at some point (hopefully soon) we’ll transition to what epidemiologists call “endemic”. This transition is marked by the general population gaining immunity either by infection or vaccination. At this stage, our immune systems will no longer be unfamiliar with COVID-19, and there will be fewer hospitalizations and new infections. Once this happens, the virus won’t be eliminated, but its impacts will be reduced.

Similar to pandemics of the past

When looking throughout history, the U.S. and the world have confronted and overcome pandemics. While what we are experiencing now is devastating on many levels, it’s not uncommon. An example that shows a virus’ devastating impacts, longevity, and containment can be seen with measles.

Brought to the U.S. by European settlers and first documented in Boston, Mass. in 1657, the virus ravaged communities for more than 300 years before a vaccine was developed. Post-vaccine, it took almost 20 years for cases to be reduced to near elimination. However, resistance to vaccination in the mid-late 1980’s produced another spike. Eventually, the incidence of the disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. by 2000.

Although measles still exists and outbreaks occur throughout the world, vaccination has proven to help reduce and eliminate its threat.

Reframe our view on Covid-19

With the prevalence of breakthrough cases, it’s well known that someone who has been vaccinated can contract the virus. But it’s important to remember that in addition to preventing infection, the vaccine is strengthening one’s immune response. So, a vaccinated person is less likely to be hospitalized compared to someone who hasn’t.

Moving forward, we should expect more variants from the Coronavirus, but how we respond is crucial. We should take an approach to COVID-19, much like we do with the seasonal flu. Get an annual vaccination shot and be more hygienically vigilant.

It’s so important that we think about COVID-19 through this lens, because managing it becomes much less intimidating for everyone. If vaccinations and boosters are ignored, new strains like the Delta, Lambda and Mu variant could send us into another mass shutdown.

Supporting protective measures

Colleges and universities have been facing many challenges when it comes to mitigating the impact of the virus to student education. Although returning to online learning and mask mandates in schools may be unpopular decisions, some schools, like Rice University, have returned to the use of online classes to protect their students. And while the decisions may have been unpopular, it’s important to remember that these initiatives worked, and can continue to do so as we navigate through surges in variant cases.

Denying the need for masks or distance learning as variants spread is only going to cause more harm to students and their higher learning institutions. Embracing and accepting that reality means schools can help protect students and move past the difficulties seen prior to vaccine availability. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not going away. However, we can continue to loosen its grip by supporting vaccinations, boosters, wearing masks, being hygienically vigilant and socially distancing when possible.

Visit our Coronavirus resources page for more information.

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