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Endemic: Are we close to achieving it? What does it mean?

COVID future
Posted at 5:45 AM, Mar 04, 2022

The term “endemic” has emerged with the most recent decrease in COVID-19 cases across the country, but does that mean we’re in the clear? KSBY spoke with public health directors from San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County to find out.

A light at the end of the tunnel.

“We think we've gotten past the worst of it,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County Public Health Director.

March of 2020 to March of 2022, we’ve seen several variants of COVID-19, none as transmissible as Omicron, even to those that received a vaccine. With that being said, healthcare professionals say vaccinated individuals were still protected from death at a much higher rate than those unvaccinated.

“We're seeing more like 70% of the deaths are among unvaccinated. It's still a high majority, but it's a relatively small number,” said Dr. Borenstein. “I like to frame it a little bit differently; you're 15 to 20 times more likely to die if you're unvaccinated and get the disease than you are if you are fully vaccinated, especially if you're boosted.”

Both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties have seen a dramatic decrease in cases since the Omicron peak at the beginning of 2022, but are those numbers parallel with hospitalization numbers?

“Yes, (they) are. That's really tied to a significantly higher number of our community being vaccinated,” said Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, Santa Barbara County Public Health Director. “We are seeing a decline in hospitalizations reflected in a drastic decline in our cases.”

All trends look to be heading in the right direction, but Dr. Borenstein says we should stay vigilant because of the unknown with the virus.

“This virus has surprised us at every turn. As I say, my crystal ball is broken permanently. Endemic just means when you've got sort of background levels of a circulating communicable or infectious disease. We're not there yet,” said Dr. Borenstein.

Taking your mask off is no longer the future, it’s now; a major step in the right direction.

“The decisions made about giving people the opportunity, especially among the vaccinated, to take their masks off in indoor settings is really a prognostication of where we're going,” said Dr. Borenstein.

A quick update on testing; if you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone that tested positive for COVID-19, the best test is an antigen test because it’s much more sensitive when detecting the virus. If you are asymptomatic and testing without having a close contact, a PCR test is the way to go.