In the middle of May 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services of the United States declared the end of COVID-19’s public health emergency. After a wide swath of folks from the United States received vaccinations and/or gained protection after previous infections, the acute number of hospital admissions declined, leading to a less stressed healthcare system. That factor, combined with an improved understanding of the disease and better treatment, has led to a better survival chance than it used to have.
With an overall decline in urgency, it has become much more difficult to find updated information on COVID cases being discussed (which isn’t unfair, there are wars and a whole other host of pressing issues that have rightfully grabbed our attention). But the shelf life of pandemics is far more lengthy than our collective attention spans. And, with breaking news that the BA.2.86 variant has been picking up traction over the last couple of weeks and experts predicting that we will soon see another spike, it’s still important to keep the disease on our radar.
The Current State of COVID
Since COVID is no longer classified as a global public health emergency, there has been a general decrease in data tracking regarding cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. As a result, data has become more difficult to obtain, with even the World Health Organization noting that their data is limited at the moment. As I showcase data from here on, it’s important to keep this in the back of your mind.
In late September, according to a report by the University of Minnesota, “cases were down 55% and deaths were down 34%, with a mixed picture from different regions”. Cases were up in some regions, however, with European and Eastern Mediterranean regions reporting a slight uptick over the last few weeks. Also of concern, deaths were reported as increasing in three regions: “Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia” in comparison to previous weeks. According to Nebraska Medicine, in the United States alone there are more than 10,000 patients that are currently hospitalized with COVID, roughly 1600 of them are in the ICU. So, Coronavirus didn’t magically disappear, it has just begun to find its stable population size amongst us.
There’s a silver lining: we know how to treat the disease better than we once did, which has resulted in a sharp decline in deaths from the disease when compared to the amount in 2020. Now, only a few hundred people die from the disease daily, compared to thousands at the height of the pandemic. Our situation has certainly improved, but hundreds of families grappling with the loss of a loved one daily is still a tragedy.
Recently, hospital admittance has started to trend upward slightly in comparison to recent weeks. This trend is expected and will likely continue annually, as respiratory diseases tend to peak in colder winter months. According to an article from The Hill in October, this winter we will see a moderate wave with metrics similar to the winter of 2022.
Expert Expectations and Predictions for COVID in 2024 and Beyond
According to Nebraska Medicine Omaha, the currently available vaccinations are still effective against the strains of COVID that are most common. It’s incredibly important to stay up to date with boosters, however, as the more the disease spreads, the higher the chance there is for mutation, and the more likely it can become for a variant that requires vaccine modification to be effective. There is a whole ecosystem of COVID variants out there. We must remain vigilant and on top of vaccinations and other prevention methods to maintain the less dramatically rapid spread we now have.
Similar to the flu, experts predict that COVID will be a seasonal affliction we must become accustomed to. In 2021, Pfizer executives suggested that we would see endemism of the disease as early as 2024, and so far, it seems that that prediction was nearly spot-on. Endemism is a term we use in biology to indicate that the presence of a species is natural to a location — in just a few years, COVID became an invasive virus so prolific that it has staked a sizable claim in our global habitat. We are no longer in the epidemic phase of COVID, as case numbers are no longer subject to acute rises like they once were. In addition, we’re shifting out of the pandemic phase, as the spread is no longer unrestrained.
COVID Spread is Slower. Now What?
It appears that we may have to live with COVID, but doing your part to keep the spread slow can make a huge difference in saving lives. Taking actions like staying home when you feel ill, staying up to date with your vaccines, and covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze can make a shockingly huge difference. If we keep the spread of COVID-19 slow, we can prevent the rapid evolution of the virus.
If you’re looking for more information on preventing the transmission of COVID or avoiding becoming ill, I recommend using the Harvard Medical Resource Center, or other reputable sources of information like health or government agencies, or qualified health professionals. These organizations know much more about epidemiology and disease prevention than I do.
After three brutal years, and nearly 7 million deaths, we’ve determined that 99% of those afflicted with COVID survived. And that data could be a little inaccurate, as many COVID deaths were front-loaded when the sheer amount of cases filled hospital beds past their effective capacity. Since the number of cases has dwindled, fatality rates have significantly decreased globally. When compared with many other common diseases like Typhoid and Ebola, the risk seems small enough that we can afford to go back to business as usual. But it’s important to note here that the case-fatality rate of COVID is still significantly worse than influenza, with estimates between 10–40 times more deadly than the seasonal flu. COVID does necessitate a new normal, and it is serious enough of an illness that we shouldn’t just cast worries of it aside post-pandemic.
COVID has become an affliction we must now permanently battle with. The war we waged to eradicate the disease is over and it appears that the only real victor is Coronavirus. Fights continue all about our world to survive the disease and to mourn those lost. But through collective action, we can still improve our situation — or at least prevent it from worsening. Practice empathy, educate with kindness, keep up to date with vaccinations, and do what you can to avoid spreading the disease to others. Even locally, you can make a difference and save lives.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered professional advice. When seeking information about COVID-19 or any health-related topics, rely on trusted sources such as government health agencies, reputable medical organizations, and qualified healthcare professionals. Always consult authoritative sources for the latest guidance and recommendations. Misinformation can pose serious risks to public health, so exercise caution and verify information from reliable channels.