The pandemic is dead. Long live the endemic.
wishful thinking? No, more of a prediction that isn’t as good as it sounds.
The good thing is that the Monitor’s COVID tracker is finally ready to report the pandemic in New Hampshire. Several factors led to this admittedly arbitrary distinction.
The patchy number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state — patchy because reported testing is so unpredictable these days — has fallen to its lowest level in over a year and a half. Fewer than 100 new cases were reported in the most recent two-week report, the smallest number since August 2021.
The CDC’s wastewater monitoring program says the amount of the SARS-CoV2 virus from the four tested facilities, including Concord, has been steadily declining since January. The number of sewage viruses in Boston has fallen sharply this year and is now lower than it has been since last fall.
More importantly, the number of hospitalized COVID patients reported by the state hospital society has been falling and falling, and is now at its lowest level in almost a year.
Pessimists will say that we’ve had dips in COVID data before and the pandemic has always come back. That’s true, but that feels different: In particular, the number of hospital admissions has never increased as much in winter as before. It’s like they’ve settled into a groove that won’t rage again.
That’s good, but not so good either, because there’s also no indication that hospitalizations will go away. Hence part two of the introduction: “Long live the endemic.”
(Grammarists will tell you that the word ‘endemic’, unlike ‘pandemic’, is only an adjective and cannot be used as a noun, but I despise such limitations. Language is fluent, bean counter!)
An endemic disease is one that is always present and remains fairly constant, flaring up occasionally but not catastrophically like the flu. Medical experts have long expected that COVID-19 will eventually become endemic; any hopes that it might vanish like smallpox were quickly dashed by the lack of social cohesion.
Endemic might be better than pandemic, but it doesn’t mean harmless. A handful of New Hampshire residents continue to die from this virus each week, and many more are getting sick, which is inconvenient for them and bad for the economy when they can’t go to work and have the ability to leave it in some form of long COVID which can be a real problem.
Our war with COVID-19 is not evolving like World War II, where the bad guys were defeated. It’s the public health equivalent of the Korean War, in which years of fighting achieved nothing, leaving us in an uncertain truce that could flare up at any time.
On a practical level, this means that we should continue to receive boosters when needed. If your last refresher was before September, the CDC suggests you get another one.
It also means I will continue to wear a mask in crowded public places and will probably do so for the rest of my life. Boy, that’s a depressing thought.
But at least the pandemic is over!