California is the first U.S. state to treat COVID as endemic but are we there yet?
SAN FRANCISCO -- As California becomes the first U.S. state to adopt an "endemic" approach to COVID-19, we take a closer look at what becoming "endemic" means and if virus levels have truly transitioned in our communities.
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention defines endemic as "the constant presence of an agent or health condition within a given geographic area or population".
Four infectious disease experts interviewed told ABC7 News in San Francisco that they believe the SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases doctor and Professor of Medicine at UCSF says endemicity means bringing it down to a controllable phase. "The end game is really bringing down the virus to low levels where we just live with it."
It doesn't mean COVID becomes less infectious nor does it mean it gets eradicated.
UCSF's Chair of the Department of Medicine, Dr. Robert Wachter expects infections to fall and community immunity levels to rise from a combination of vaccinations, antiviral medication and omicron infections.
This sentiment is echoed by other infectious disease experts in the field.
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"In the next few weeks, we expect that the numbers are going to start to drop off pretty soon in California, and there's evidence that that's happening elsewhere also. So what we're really hoping will happen is to move to a phase where we know that we have to live with this virus," Professor of Pediatrics (infectious diseases) and of Epidemiology and population health at Stanford Medicine, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado says.
All four doctors point to vaccinations as the main pathway to achieve endemicity.
"I do think that there's a chance that we can get rid of the pandemic - meaning large surges of hospitalizations and deaths, and maybe get to a point where we have a circulation of the virus with less hospitalizations and deaths and maybe the same or more infections, but not leading to the bad outcomes. And we're going to have to learn how to live with that with vaccinations. And we'll have to learn more about whether we can stop masking at some point later this year. If the disease becomes less severe," says Dr. Maldonado.
However, Dr. Wachter says although he can project a fall in infections with some confidence for the spring and perhaps the summer, he isn't as confident to say the same of the fall and winter later this year. "A lot of that depends on if there is a new and worse variant."
He says how much immunity from an omicron infection alone is also still unknown. "For unvaccinated people, if their only immunity is from an infection, it really all depends on how good that immunity is and how long it lasts. If it starts waning, and they're vulnerable again, then we could see another significant surge. But I'm moderately optimistic," Dr. Wachter says.
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