Public health officials predict COVID-19 might become endemic, but what does that mean?

The common cold and the flu are examples of viruses that are endemic. When a disease becomes endemic, you expect it to be around every year. [Nhemz / Shutterstock]
The common cold and the flu are examples of viruses that are endemic. When a disease becomes endemic, you expect it to be around every year. [Nhemz / Shutterstock]
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The global spread of COVID-19 is often called a pandemic. Many public health officials, however, are predicting it may soon become endemic, but what does that mean?

At first, COVID-19 was classified as an epidemic. When it began to spread worldwide, it became a pandemic. Now, if it's something that we don't expect to get rid of, it will become endemic, which is looking more and more likely, said Donna Skoda, Summit County Health Commissioner.

"When a disease becomes endemic, you expect it to be in a region or an area or a country," Skoda said.

The common cold and the flu are examples of viruses that are endemic because communities deal with them every year. 

Because the coronavirus is new, no one knows when exactly it will become endemic, she said.

"I don't think anyone is 100 percent sure when they would actually label it an endemic disease," she said. 

COVID-19 has some characteristics in common with other endemic diseases, Skoda said. 

"We do know that it circulates in all kinds of weather. We do know that it's highly contagious. We know that it has the ability to mutate to become more contagious," she said. 

Skoda hopes that if COVID-19 does become endemic, it would become less severe and less taxing to Northeast Ohio hospitals. 

Even if COVID-19 becomes endemic, it's still important to practice public health measures like frequent hand washing and wearing masks, she said. Those measures are what slowed the spread of the cold and the flu in 2020 and 2021. 

Masks might not be the most comfortable, but it's more comfortable than getting sick, she said.

COVID-19 is still a very dangerous virus, with people hospitalized or dying every day. For most people, it doesn't matter how the virus is classified.

"No matter what we call it, the disease is out there," she said.

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