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What is the endemic phase and when could we see that happen? Plus, more on COVID-19

Getting more people vaccinated will be key for moving into the endemic phase.
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 5:59 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - After nearly two years of being in the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are hopeful that the pandemic will start to die down soon.

Health officials hope so, too, as more people get vaccinated and the virus mutates to become less severe.

Endemic Phase

“So, the hope certainly is as Omicron comes through and so many people have had it, many people have been vaccinated, people have been vaccinated and had it, that will give us some degree of herd immunity going forward, and the next variants that come will be variants that may be contagious but don’t cause as severe a disease,” said Dr. David Priest with Novant Health. “Then we move into that endemic phase, no longer pandemic where we get these big surges, but more endemic where the virus is around, much like influenza, and we manage it as a society. The wildcard of all that — is there a variant that will emerge that our current immunity from vaccination or having had COVID doesn’t address?”

Dr. Priest said if that’s the case, then pandemic phases are still possible moving forward.

“Obviously, we hope that’s not the case and we hope that we can move into a different period. I’m also hopeful that as new antiviral agents come to market and supplies ramp-up, we will have more effective treatments that will help keep the burden out of hospitals going forward.”

As for a timeline on when we might move towards that endemic phase, Priest said it’s hard to put an exact or estimated date on that because COVID cases are at an all-time high right now. But he hopes that changes soon so we can move into that endemic phase.

At-home tests

Weeks ago, we learned that when people tested positive with a rapid at-home test they would go and get a follow-up test from a doctor, pharmacy or testing site and those results would be reported to the health department, so not too many cases were being missed in the overall positivity rate — but that’s not the case anymore.

“I believe we’re actually way under-counting because we have individuals who are doing thousands of at home tests, some of which are positive and they’re staying home, but the state doesn’t have any record of those and has no way of getting that data or knowing about those cases,” said Priest. “We have other individuals who have not been able to access testing for various reasons, who have had COVID and had to just wait it out at home, so there are probably thousands more cases than we’re aware of.”

While many people shy away from the at-home tests right now because the accuracy has been questioned, Priest said they are still useful if you can get your hands on them.

In the near future some new rapid tests will be on the market that are believed to be much more accurate.

Is it possible to be reinfected with COVID-19?

In short, yes.

Priest said that people who are vaccinated have a lower chance of contracting the virus again. In other words, those people have the most protection.

“We would encourage individuals who had COVID before, especially if it’s been more than six months ago, who have not been vaccinated, to consider it because that would really reduce your chance of getting reinfected with Omicron or certainly having complications from it,” said Priest. “It’s not that having infection alone has no value in your immune response; we’re not saying that at all. We just think that if you get vaccinated with that, you’re really improving your chances of avoiding problems with Omicron.”

Masks

Masks are one of the measures that can help lower your chance of contracting COVID-19. Priest advised that it’s best to follow CDC guidelines when it comes to masking. As KN95 and N95 masks are recommended, many people are having trouble getting their hands on them. Priest mentioned that wearing two surgical masks in addition to a cloth mask will suffice, too.

Along with wearing a mask, health officials are still urging anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to seriously consider it. Priest said that getting more people vaccinated will be key for moving into the endemic phase.

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