CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, there are more and more indications that the virus is here to stay. It is likely to become part of daily life, a virus the world learns to live with, like the flu.
"COVID is with us," Dr. Raynard Washington, deputy health director with Mecklenburg Public Health, said. "It's not just going to disappear. It really just becomes endemic, or really just in our community on an ongoing basis."
That transition from "pandemic" to "endemic" will likely be gradual, with no concrete switch-over.
"The flag isn't going to be raised to say, 'We're now endemic,'" Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health, said. "It will be gradual."
Washington said there are public health discussions underway over how to handle guidance as the COVID-19 landscape changes, and there could be new protocols in the next several months to a year, as more people get vaccinated.
"As we're able to get the youngest of us vaccinated and we have tools in our toolbox to be able to protect the majority of people in our population, specifically vaccine for everybody, I think we'll handle COVID differently as a community," Washington said.
Annual COVID-19 vaccinations could be on the horizon.
"I'm not going to be surprised if additional true boosters, designed against the delta variant or other variants, are a once-a-year thing like a flu shot," Priest said.
As the virus circulates, it is also likely that there could be fluctuations in its levels.
"We will continue to have periods of high transmission and periods of lower transmission," Washington said.
While the timing of the transition to endemic is still unknown, Dr. Jonathan Quick, an adjunct professor of Global Health with Duke University, said getting everyone access to vaccines will be the key to turning the page.
"What we can't do is let it stay at a level where it overwhelms emergency rooms, crashes hospitals, exhausts and depletes our health system and disrupts our global supply chains," Quick said. "That's just in no one's interest."