What does the end of a pandemic look like?
After more than a year spent experiencing the throws of the coronavirus pandemic, citizens no doubt have COVID-19 fatigue. As a result, it would be understandable if they are asking themselves, when will the pandemic be over? What are the parameters that health officials will use when they finally proclaim that the pandemic is behind us?
The Irish Times reports health authorities in the United Kingdom believe they are now in an endemic situation.
“A new study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, is based on data from the national Covid Infection Survey run by the University of Oxford and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Sarah Walker, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford and chief investigator on the survey, said Britain had “moved from a pandemic to an endemic situation.”
She said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the vaccination program could keep COVID under control.
In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser on the novel coronavirus, recently updated the timeline on when we might see the end of the coronavirus pandemic, and we may know more soon.
The turning point of the pandemic might happen “within a few weeks,” Fauci recently said during a virtual event from Harvard. With the current pace of vaccinations, “literally within a few weeks, we’re going to start to see a turning around of the dynamics,” he said.
“If you’re waiting for classic measles-like herd immunity, that’s going to be a while before we get there,” Fauci said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have a significant diminution in the number of infections per day and a significant diminution in all of the parameters, namely hospitalizations and deaths.”
In the UK, symptomatic infections have been reduced by 90 percent, and coronavirus has now dropped to the third biggest killer in the country, behind heart disease and Alzheimer’s/dementia.
Britain was the first nation in the world to clinically approve a COVID-19 vaccine. In December last year, the country’s rollout began, and has remained one of the most efficient in the world ever since.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this year that all COVID-19 public health measures will be dropped on June 21.
The COVID situation in Idaho
As Washington citizens wonder about the end of the pandemic in their state, an Idaho doctor says the data shows that state is already in an endemic state.
“We are in an endemic now statistically, the pandemic is over in Idaho,” said Dr. Ryan Cole last month. “Statistically, once we’re below a set percentage, we are not in a pandemic right now. Is the disease present? Sure it is. Is it widespread? No.”
“We’re still doing maybe 500 to 600 patient tests a day,” he said. “At most, we’re seeing 2 percent (positivity rate) per day right now.”
Cole runs Cole Diagnostics, one of the largest independent laboratories in the state of Idaho. Cole is a Mayo Clinic-trained, board certified pathologist, board certified in anatomic and clinical pathology. He has expertise in immunology and virology. His laboratory has done about 100,000 COVID tests in the past year.
“We are past a pandemic stage; we’re in an endemic stage and in most states we are there,” he said. “Their numbers are still high in a few states. But we’re getting past that point. Corona viruses are seasonal. They follow a six-to-nine month lifecycle and no matter what we do, they’re going to do what they do and then they’re going to fade.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks “excess deaths” above what would normally be expected. In Washington state, the last time we showed “excess” deaths above what would have been predicted, was the week of Feb. 6. The state was 99 deaths above the “average expected number of deaths” of 1,249.
For the week ending April 17, Washington was 145 deaths below the predicted average and the state has been below the predicted average for about two-and-a-half months.
According to Dr. Cole, the average COVID-19 age of death has been 78.6. The normal average age of death in North America every year is 78.6.
The CDC reports the highest weekly total of COVID-19 deaths in America was 24,837 on Jan 9, 2021. The lowest weekly deaths during the pandemic was 3,825 on June 27, 2020. Incomplete data shows deaths last week at 1,231.
Good news in Clark County
The good news here in Clark County is the Public Health (CCPH) department shows we are now experiencing one to three COVID-19 deaths per week. Statewide, we are experiencing less than 10 COVID-related deaths per week.
Over the course of the pandemic, Clark County has experienced 258 deaths reported by public health as attributable to COVID-19. That’s less than one per day.
Over the pandemic, the worst period of deaths from COVID-19 was the month of January when Clark County experienced between one and two deaths each day. Again, the county is now down to 1-3 deaths per week.
The Clark County mortality historically has gone from 2,341 deaths in 2000, to 3,826 in 2019. The population has grown from 345,000 to 488,000 in that time. To put it in perspective, in 2019 there were just over 10 deaths per day in Clark County from all causes. And today in 2021, we are now experiencing less than one death per day from COVID. Citizens might ask: is less than one death a day still a “pandemic?”
Coronary heart disease takes about one person a day in Clark County. Strokes take one person about every other day, roughly 180 deaths per year. Cancer took 1,077 males and 946 females according to CCPH from 2014-2016. That would equate to just under two per day. Alzheimers claimed 230 people in 2016, or about two people every three days. The flu season deaths were practically non-existent last year, with a single death reported.
In the United Kingdom, for the moment, officials report the pandemic is all but over and that all COVID-19 related restrictions will end June 21. Clark County residents would likely welcome their public health officials providing a definition of what the end of the pandemic looks like, or when they can return to a normal life.
While there has been a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Clark County, healthcare professionals have obviously improved in their ability to treat patients who have the virus. Only about 6 percent of hospital beds are currently occupied with COVID-19 patients. Fatality numbers have declined.
There is reason for cautious optimism. If Dr. Cole is right, that this virus is “seasonal,” area residents should be able to begin enjoying the warmer weather outdoors as summer arrives with the end of the pandemic phase of COVID-19.