As more people in the U.S. get vaccinated and restrictions ease, some people are asking what it will take to end the pandemic.
UPDATE (5/5/23): On May 5, WHO Director-General announced the end of the global health emergency of COVID-19 after the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee told him that “the time has come to move to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The CEO says that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing public health problem. The end of a global health emergency does not mean that the disease is no longer a global threat UN says.
with half of the US adult population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxing his guidance on the mask for people who are fully vaccinated, some people feel that life is returning to normal and the pandemic is winding down.
But when will the pandemic end? This is a question for some posted on social networks and search interest tied to the end of the pandemic remained steady throughout May data from Google Trends.
Is there a set standard that will mark the end of the COVID-19 pandemic?
No, there are no established standards that would mark the end of a pandemic. While a pandemic means the worldwide spread of a virus, the characterization of an outbreak as a pandemic has no formal meaning, according to the WHO.
WHAT WE FOUND
Dr. John Towns, medical director of infection prevention and control at Oregon Health & Science University, said the description of the spread of the disease is not absolute. But overall, Towns said, the outbreak represents a larger-than-expected increase in infections. He said an epidemic usually means an outbreak has spread more widely in a community, while a pandemic is when the spread is global.
On your website WHO defines a pandemic as “the global spread of a new disease”.
“When a disease spreads worldwide, it’s called a pandemic,” WHO said in an email to VERIFY. “That’s a way to describe an outbreak. His “declaration” has no official meaning. When the global spread of COVID-19 stops, it will no longer be considered a pandemic.”
However, classifying the spread of a disease as a pandemic is subjective, as there is no definition of what constitutes a worldwide spread. They were there reported cases in 114 countries when the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Some epidemiologists called on the WHO to declare the crisis a pandemic sooner than the organization did.
“If there’s no definition of when you call it a pandemic, there’s no real definition of when it’s over,” Towns said.
“Often things happen on a continuum, and we can’t necessarily break them down into a pandemic, no pandemic,” he explained. “These are artificial barriers that we put on things to communicate with.”
Towns pointed to the spread of the virus as an indicator of where the pandemic is and when it might end. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shared a similar sentiment speech at the World Health Assembly on May 24, 2021. He said the COVID-19 pandemic will not end “until transmission is controlled in every country.”
In the US, the number of cases and deaths is declining, although tens of thousands of families are still affected by COVID-19 every day. This is reported by the CDCas of May 28, the seven-day average of daily new cases was 21,627, and the seven-day average of daily deaths was 438.
Christopher McKnight Nichols, a history professor at Oregon State University, said there is also a sociological element to the game. Some people who are fully vaccinated and whose lives have been largely unaffected by COVID-19 will feel like the pandemic is over. But not everyone will share this feeling.
“It is individual. So, how do you feel about the end of the pandemic? Is this the end of the pandemic for you? It might not be for someone who lives in your house or down the street,” Nichols explained.
He said public policy will also play a role. Nichols said many of the same non-pharmaceutical measures, such as quarantine and wearing masks, were used to try to keep people safe during the 1918 flu pandemic. CDC estimates resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide and about 675,000 deaths in the United States. But he said that as the pandemic subsided, so did the life-changing measures.
“So, just like in 1918, if there are no shutdown orders, if there are no mask orders, if there are no restrictions on gatherings, these are clear signals that the pandemic is subsiding in some fundamental way, which is not what you might call an existential crisis , leading to truly draconian measures to try to save lives, especially the most vulnerable among us,” Nicholls said.
As measures are eased and become less intrusive in people’s lives, Towns said people will feel like the pandemic is ending.
“I think for the average person, the pandemic will end when the controls that interrupt their lives are lifted and when people no longer see the evidence of the pandemic in front of them,” Towns said. “They have returned to work, there are no requirements for either. Do you know when it is?”
The future of COVID-19 in the U.S. is unclear, as it is not known how many people will receive the vaccine and how new options may affect infection rates.
Some countries may experience low transmission rates due to factors such as access to vaccines, and the pandemic may end because COVID-19 does not change daily life so much. But other countries may find themselves in a different situation, and so COVID-19 will still be classified as a pandemic. It is not clear to what level worldwide transmission needs to be controlled for COVID-19 to no longer be classified as a pandemic.
More from VERIFY: Yes, in Ohio, the number of vaccinations increased after the vaccine lottery was announced
CHECK IT OUT
Our journalists work to separate fact from fiction so you can understand what’s true and what’s false online. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.