COVID-19 Q&A: When will the pandemic end?

January 18, 2022
Dr. Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist, Division of Public Health

As Omicron surges across the country and in Idaho, many of us are wondering how many more surges or waves we’ll have to endure, and when the pandemic will be considered over. There is no firm answer to that. The virus that causes COVID-19 will continue to mutate as it is spread among people throughout the world.

Getting vaccinated and boosted with COVID-19 vaccine helps to slow the spread and give the virus fewer chances to mutate, in addition to providing protection from serious illness, hospitalization, and death. People who are vaccinated and boosted don’t spread much virus because they are less likely to become infected in the first place.

Since it appears likely the virus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay in some form, the hope is that it will mutate into a variant that causes only mild illness, and that it becomes a seasonal virus with patterns that are predictable, similar to seasonal flu or the common cold. But this is not certain if or when it will occur.

Both cold and influenza viruses, and many other respiratory viruses, have distinct patterns. For example, flu becomes much more common in colder weather and peaks sometime from January to March. The common cold also becomes much more common in colder weather, and it decreases circulation in the summer months. While flu can be very serious and cause death for some people, most people survive without treatment or hospitalization. In addition, a large portion of the population gets influenza vaccinations each year, helping to control spread and severe illness. The common cold can feel terrible, but people tend to recover at home with minimal treatment.

The virus that causes COVID-19 has not settled into a predictable pattern yet, and it continues to spread and mutate. We don’t know if other variants will appear, but it is likely we will see more variants causing waves of increasing cases, hospitalizations, and sadly, even deaths until the virus mutates itself into a less dangerous form, or more people have immunity.

Dr. Christine Hahn is Idaho’s state epidemiologist and the Division of Public Health’s medical director. She is board certified in infectious disease and works in the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho’s tuberculosis clinic twice monthly. She also serves on CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and since late February 2020, has been focusing almost solely on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

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