COVID-19: What does ‘endemic’ mean and are we there yet?

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: What does ‘endemic’ mean and are we there yet?'
COVID-19: What does ‘endemic’ mean and are we there yet?
WATCH: Officials are starting to describe COVID-19 as becoming endemic, a word many may be unfamiliar with and wonder what it means for the future of the virus. Kelly Skjerven reports. – Jul 30, 2021

With the word ‘endemic’ being used recently by officials to describe COVID-19, some may be unfamiliar with the word and what it means for the future of the virus.

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said an endemic infection is one that still needs to be dealt with on an ongoing basis.

“(COVID-19) is becoming endemic. We don’t think it’s going away, so we have to live with it as productively and positively as we can,” Conway told Global News.

As for examples of other endemic diseases, Conway listed endemic HIV, hepatitis C and other endemic sexually transmitted infections such as endemic syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

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“We’re not going to eliminate them from our environment. We know that they are there. We know what transmits them and what behaviors are to be avoided. We diagnose each and every case. We identify the transmission networks to try and interrupt them.”

Conway said there are COVID-19 treatments that are being tested in clinical trials across the country.

He said this treatment comes in the form of pills that are taken after someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19 that helps them get better and avoid hospitalization.

Conway believes we are evolving towards that model.

“No one should be suggesting and I think no one has actually suggested from a public health perspective that COVID is going away. It is becoming endemic. We have to pay attention to it in a very different way and set up a long-term strategy that will allow us to adapt to the new COVID world,” Conway said.

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Conway used Israel as an example of a country that is treating COVID-19 as endemic by launching a program allowing residents to get a third booster COVID-19 vaccine.

Click to play video: 'Israel approves 3rd booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 60+'
Israel approves 3rd booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 60+

A pandemic involves an uncontrolled spread of and infection, something the world has been dealing with over the past 18 months. Conway said a situation moves from pandemic to endemic when we understand it isn’t going away and how to deal with it in the future.

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He added there is no way of defining a specific time when an infection becomes endemic.

“It really is more of a process where we understand that there’s not going to be uncontrolled community-based spread and that by allocating to COVID-19 the resources that we normally allocate to other endemic conditions (and) are sufficient to keep the infection under control,” Conway explained.

Conway estimates that COVID-19 will become endemic in Canada when the next stage of reopening begins and we get closer to the “old normal.”

One negative consequence to deeming COVID-19 endemic is the chance that it de-emphasizes the risk the virus still holds, Conway added.

“As long as when we call it endemic, we aren’t de-emphasizing any of these important things, defunding any of the important initiatives that are still required to achieve the goals that I’ve mentioned, then we’re fine,” Conway said.

“But if it’s an announcement that we’re just kind of not going to do COVID anymore, from a public health perspective, then I think that’s how some of the announcements that have been made, particularly in Alberta yesterday have been interpreted. Let’s hope that’s not what they meant.”

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Click to play video: 'Pandemic to endemic: Alberta needs to prepare for other diseases as resources shifted away from COVID-19: Hinshaw'
Pandemic to endemic: Alberta needs to prepare for other diseases as resources shifted away from COVID-19: Hinshaw

Among Regina residents, there are still some concerns expressed about COVID-19.

“Lately, there’s been a lot of information about the Delta variant coming out, and that information is coming out day by day, it only makes sense to be very cautious, at least in your personal life, continue to mask and social distance,” resident Kevin O’Connor said.

Another resident, Leslie Anderson, said she still wears her mask despite there being no mandate in place in the province.

“I have no trouble putting on a mask, I’m not sure if I need to but it’s not a big deal to me, it’s just slap a mask on when I go into a grocery store,” Anderson said.

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Other residents added they are proud of their fully vaccinated status and are encouraging others to roll up their sleeves if they haven’t gotten the shot yet.

“As far as I’m concerned, everyone should be vaccinated, there’s a small percentage who can’t medically, the rest of you, I’m sorry, you’re affecting me and my grandkids,” Donald Matwiy said.

As for moving forward, Conway thinks it’s best to assume there will be a yearly booster shot and people will still need to be careful gathering in large groups indoors.

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