‘We have to learn how to live with this.’ ENC doctors discuss moving from pandemic to endemic

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Health officials are the federal, state and local levels are discussing ways to move forward with COVID-19.

This comes as we approach nearly two years in the pandemic. The idea is to move from pandemic to endemic. Local health experts said this virus isn’t going anywhere, but we need to learn to live normal lives with it.

“I’m guilty of having said I wanted to purge this thing from Pitt County,” said Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County health director. “I’m not sure that we can purge it from Pitt County anymore. I wish we could. But I think this is going to be something that’s a part of the environment.”

The move from pandemic to endemic is something Gov. Roy Cooper has discussed recently.

“This virus and its variants will continue to be with us for a while, but we’re getting better and better at dealing and living with it,” Cooper said in a press conference on Jan. 4.

These conversations are also happening at the local level.

“We have to learn how to live with this, have reasonable lives,” said Dr. Ronald May, vice president of Medical Affairs at CarolinaEast Medical Center. “Go about business in a reasonable, safe way.”

Silvernail said to get there, the virus needs to transition.

“The evolutionary pressure on a virus like COVID is to become more transmissible, and we’re certainly seeing that with omicron and to become less harmful to the host and there certainly seems to be a suggestion that that’s the case with omicron too,” he said.

The other piece of the puzzle lies within a population’s immunity.

“Between the numbers of folks who had the original strain, had delta, have now had or will have omicron by the time omicron is over, there’s a great deal of immunity in the community,” said Silvernail. “From a vaccination standpoint, over half of our community has been fully vaccinated.”

Many doctors said we’ve still got a long way to go before reaching the endemic stage.

“There’s too much of a rapid spread,” said May. “What we cannot afford to have happen is where the health systems throughout the country get overwhelmed with sick people.”

Doctors said they’re glad officials are having these conversations because this level of effort is unsustainable. They want to emphasize this pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing. Instead, the hope is people will gain immunity. That way there will be less transmission, hospitalization and death related to COVID-19.

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