Cases of COVID-19 are steadily dropping across the U.S., and many states and cities are lifting mask and vaccine mandates. But is this just the calm before another storm? “It’s too early to raise the ‘mission accomplished’ banner,” says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventative medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “We’re not there yet. In public health, there is a great tendency to eradicate the control program before the disease is under control.” Here is what virus experts are concerned might come next. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
There’s a strong chance COVID could become a seasonal virus, like the flu—but there’s no telling if new variants could be more dangerous. “The virus has been unpredictable,” says Dr. Suzanne Bradley, professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Michigan. “It mutates, and for it to mutate, it has to be able to infect people. But if we maximally protect ourselves with vaccines, we might be able to prevent this thing from mutating further and die out. I think that’s the hope; that we will get to the point where that will happen or at least become more predictable and more seasonal.”
Being vaccinated and boosted continues to be the most effective way to protect yourself and others from the COVID-19 virus, but scientists are worried about new variants. “We continue to have vaccines be less effective against variants,” says Dr. Bradley. “Some of our monoclonal antibody and IV therapy treatments (can) become ineffective, our hospitals (can) become overwhelmed again.”
Many scientists are now questioning whether the virus could become a permanent factor in life, with yearly boosters becoming the norm. “I think this is going to go endemic and it’s going to be a lot like a seasonal flu, but we’re going to have a couple of drugs that are going to be good at treating it, and I think the immunity that we have with the boosts, and particularly I think moving forward, we’ll be getting boosters like once a year like we do for flu, and it’s just going to become part of the background landscape that we live with,” says Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a Distinguished USF Health professor.
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“I think one of the things that we’re seeing socially – and it’s appropriate – is after two years of all of us living with this thing, we need to be moving the responsibility and the personal decision-making and even things like testing, more into the individual domain,” says Dr. Gib Morrow, health officer for the Kitsap Public Health District, WA. “People do need to start taking individual responsibility for their own health and their management of it.”
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There is serious concern that the virus will continue to mutate as long as people keep getting infected. “Every time we allow this virus to infect somebody, it’s like giving the virus a lottery ticket and increasing the chance that we’re gonna see mutations,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. “It’s a crapshoot… We could face another variant that basically takes us back two years, and we start all over again. That’s one of the possibilities.”
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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.