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Have we reached 'endemic' status? Area medical leaders weigh in

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Posted at 5:10 PM, Dec 30, 2021

CLEVELAND — On Thursday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 19,774 new coronavirus cases across the state. Over the past two weeks, Northeast Ohio accounts for nine of the top 10 counties when it comes to new cases per 100,000 people.

As medical experts continue to dispense an urgent call for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, News 5 asked area medical leaders about the shift from a pandemic to COVID-19 becoming endemic.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic.

Now, 21 months and two weeks later, the word “endemic” has started to permeate the coronavirus conversation.

“There's every indication that we are in a process of moving towards a virus that is more endemic,” Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health said during a news conference Wednesday. “I think COVID-19 is here to be with us for the long haul.”

Endemic, as defined by the CDC, refers to the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area.

So what exactly does it mean to go from a pandemic to an endemic disease?

Dr. Kenneth Remy, a pediatric and adult critical care physician with UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, points out that an endemic disease, like the common cold or the flu, will likely never leave our daily lives.

But the concern surrounding it can change.

It's certainly feasible that this is an endemic disease that will live on for the next 20 or 40 years in our population,” he said. “But this is the difference: people won’t die. The reason why we're getting vaccinated is not because you won't get the sniffles, it's so that you don't endure a breathing tube, go into an ECMO machine or subsequently die from this disease. That's the whole reason why the vaccinations and boosters are so important. You still can get the disease, but you will live. And that's really hard for many of us in the health care professions to see at this point.”

Dr. Remy told News 5 that while the term endemic has not formally been applied yet, it’s already here.

“I think now that we're two years into this and we've had consistent positive cases of COVID-19 without periods of time where we've had no COVID-19 cases, I think it's safe to say that we're in an endemic,” he added.

Jim Adams serves as commissioner at Canton City Public Health he sees how isolation and quarantine guidelines will also change with COVID-19 becoming endemic.

“It works really, really well when the case counts or the number of people in the community that are infected are low,” he said. “But as more and more people become infected, the value of isolation and the value of quarantine goes down, its effectiveness goes down.”

While many believe that the coronavirus will never be fully eradicated, state leaders argue what’s yet to come will be far more manageable than the past two years.

“We do not expect this to last forever,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Wednesday. “This will get better.”

“I don't think any of us are anticipating that we will continue to live in the state that we have had to endure during these early years of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff added. “Which means we all have to take the reasonable and appropriate steps we need to take to protect ourselves and others from COVID 19. Just like we have to take those steps with other viruses that are endemic and we've learned to live with, including the flu.”

It's not clear if or when major organizations will formally declare the coronavirus an endemic disease.

RELATED: Ohio eclipsed by COVID-19: State ranks in the top 7 nationwide for daily cases