Everyone has their favorite number. According to Google, Bill Gates’ favorite number is five. Mine is nine. This past week’s Foundation program, The Role of Employers: Endemic COVID, is three. From three potential COVID strains to the three long COVID needs, Dr. Matt Craven, Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, and Dr. Francesca Beaudoin’s lists of three make it easier to pull essential information for yourself and your business.
Since January 2021, Dr. Craven has co-authored "When will the COVID-19 pandemic end?" for McKinsey & Company hoping to answer this question. In their latest data set, they uncovered that as long as Omicron remains the dominant variant, we should expect to see low hospitalizations and cases for the rest of the year. The pandemic could be over this year or early 2023. However, this is only if the virus doesn’t mutate again into another strong variant. In considering this possibility, Dr. Craven shared three scenarios we could see in a future mutation, including:
- “Omicron’s Twin”: results in a similar wave seen with Omicron this past winter.
- “Delta-cron”: results in a more severe wave, think combination of Delta’s severity and Omicron’s transmissibility.
- “Milder-cron”: results in a significantly less severe wave.
But how do pandemics end? Will there always be new strains of COVID? Your local epidemiologist, Dr. Jetelina, outlined the three ways pandemics historically have ended:
- They simply fade away. Think back to SARS. After 1 ½ years, SARS went away with strict quarantining. This option for COVID is no longer possible at this stage.
- We vaccine our way out. Think back to polio or smallpox. It worked well for these diseases; however, COVID is at a point where this option is close to impossible.
- It transitions into an endemic. Think Spanish flu. Most scientists believe this will be COVID’s endgame.
If scientists believe that endemic is endgame, we need to understand what an endemic is. As Dr. Jetelina put it, “Just because endemic contains ‘end’ doesn’t mean that it’s the end… It doesn’t mean we’ll have zero cases. It doesn’t mean we’ll have a flat horizontal line here on out. Instead, an endemic means a steady state, static... It’s constantly present with relatively low spread. Importantly, endemic does not mean no suffering.”
Three definitions of endemicity:
- Individual Endemicity: when people’s actions are no longer dictated by concern over COVID.
- Epidemiological Endemicity: COVID lives at a predictable level comfortable with society.
- Economic Endemicity: the economy is no longer heavily impacted.
As COVID becomes endemic, we look for solutions and resources to operate in a world interacting with each endemicity listed above. Discussed by Dr. Beaudoin, Brown University School of Public Health's Long Covid Initiative conducted a study on three stakeholders and their concerns over long COVID:
- Patients: felt their health concerns were minimized by professionals.
- Employers: want more education and resources on what to do for their employees.
- Policy: a large need for more disaggregated data on long COVID before beginning action.
Long COVID is a bit of a mystery. Experts are still working to answer lingering questions including how to diagnose it, how to provide enough resources, and how to advise people and employers on how to navigate the road ahead.
However, compared to where we were one to two years ago, we are in a good place to get clear answers soon. Dr. Beaudoin remains optimistic about our future and stated, “We’ve talked a lot about that crystal ball. We don’t know what it’s going to show but I think we’re in as good of a place now as we have been in the past two years.”
To learn more from these experts on what’s next, how this pandemic will end, long COVID, and a bit of crystal ball reading, please view the replay here.