The pandemic is dead. Long live the endemic.
Wishful thinking? No, more like a not-as-good-as-it-sounds prediction.
The good part is that the Monitor’s COVID Tracker is prepared, at long last, to call the pandemic over in New Hampshire. Several factors led to this admittedly arbitrary distinction.
The state’s spotty count of new cases of COVID-19 – spotty because reported testing is so erratic these days – has fallen to the 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 figure since August 2021.
The CDC’s wastewater monitoring program says that the amount of SARS-CoV2 virus from the four plants being tested, including Concord, has declined consistently since January. Boston’s wastewater virus count has plummeted this year and is now lower than it has been since last fall.
More importantly, the number of hospitalized COVID patients as reported by the state Hospital Association has been falling and falling, and is now lower than it has been for almost a year.
Pessimists will say we’ve had dips in COVID data before and the pandemic has always come back. That’s true but this feels different: Notably, hospitalization numbers never spiked over the winter like they have before. It’s as if they’ve settled into a groove that won’t come raging back again.
That’s good but also not so good, because there’s no indication hospitalizations will go away, either. Hence part two of the introduction: “long live the endemic.”
(Grammarians will tell you that the word “endemic,” unlike “pandemic,” is only an adjective and can’t be used as a noun but I scorn such limitations. Language is fluid, nit-pickers!)
An endemic disease is one that is always present and remains fairly consistent, flaring up occasionally but not disastrously, like the flu. Medical experts have long expected that COVID-19 will eventually become endemic; any hopes that could make it disappear like smallpox were quickly dashed by 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 because of this virus every week and many more become sick, which is unpleasant for them and bad for the economy if they can’t go to work, and has the possibility of leaving them with some form of long COVID, which can be a real problem.
Our war with COVID-19 isn’t turning out like World War II with the bad guys defeated. It’s the public health equivalent of the Korean War, where years of battle accomplished nothing and left us in an uneasy truce that can flare up at any time.
On a practical level, this means we should continue to get boosters as necessary. If your last booster was before September, the CDC suggests you get another one.
It also means that I will continue to wear a mask in crowded public venues, and probably will do so for the rest of my life. Boy, that’s a depressing thought.
But at least the pandemic is over!