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Virus Experts Predict What Happens Next

COVID will likely become endemic—here’s what that means.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Whatever idea you had about COVID-19 ending soon, scrap it: The Delta variant is basically a "new" virus, experts say. And it's still spreading. "It's becoming very clear that we are dealing with a global outbreak of the Delta variant," warns Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "At least 117 countries now have the Delta variant since it was first detected. We know the transmissibility that's greater than the Alpha variant—at least two times as great. The viral load is up to a thousand times greater in the nasopharynx of people with Delta than Alpha." Read on for five predictions of what will happen next—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

1

Cases May Peak Between Now and Early September—But There's a Big "But"

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"Many computer models predict case counts will peak sometime between mid-August and early September. That peak may bring as many as 450,000 daily cases, according to forecasters at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. IHME's models have drawn controversy throughout the pandemic and other groups are more conservative: The COVID-19 Forecast Hub predicts the daily case count on 21 August will be somewhere between 29,000 and 176,000, using a range of estimates from 41 different models," reports Science Mag. "But all projections rely on assumptions that are moving targets—such as mask wearing and vaccination behavior—and accuracy quickly diminishes the further out the forecast."

2

Deaths Will Rise, Project Scientists: "Delta is a Nasty One"

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"Hospitalizations and deaths will lag behind cases by several weeks and, given the number of people who are now vaccinated, deaths are expected to be lower than their peak of more than 3400 per day in January," reports Science Mag. "Still, IHME researchers forecast a peak of about 1000 deaths a day in mid-September, and a total of 76,000 additional deaths by 1 November. But if 95% of the people in the United States wore masks, their model predicts, 49,000 of those lives would be saved. Americans, including young and healthy people, should not underestimate this variant, warns Ali Mokdad, an IHME epidemiologist." "Delta is a nasty one," he says.

3

We'll Never Reach Herd Immunity, Say Some Experts

Nurse with face mask sitting at home with senior woman and injecting covid 19 vaccine.
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According to the Atlantic: "Delta is transmissible enough that once precautions are lifted, most countries 'will have a big exit wave,' Adam Kucharski, an infectious-disease modeler at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told me. As vaccination rates rise, those waves will become smaller and more manageable. But herd immunity—the point where enough people are immune that outbreaks automatically fizzle out—likely cannot be reached through vaccination alone…..This means that the 'zero COVID' dream of fully stamping out the virus is a fantasy. Instead, the pandemic ends when almost everyone has immunity, preferably because they were vaccinated or alternatively because they were infected and survived. When that happens, the cycle of surges will stop and the pandemic will peter out. The new coronavirus will become endemic—a recurring part of our lives like its four cousins that cause common colds."

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4

Immunologist Agrees That COVID May Eventually Become "Endemic"

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"The expectation that COVID-19 will become endemic essentially means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing; instead, the optimistic view is that enough people will gain immune protection from vaccination and from natural infection such that there will be less transmission and much less COVID-19-related hospitalization and death, even as the virus continues to circulate," says immunologist Yonatan Grad in the Harvard Gazette. "Since viruses spread where there are enough susceptible individuals and enough contact among them to sustain spread, it's hard to anticipate what the timeline will be for the expected shift of COVID-19 to endemicity. It's dependent on factors like the strength and duration of immune protection from vaccination and natural infection, our patterns of contact with one another that allow spread, and the transmissibility of the virus. So the patterns will likely differ considerably from what we saw with the other pandemics because of the heterogeneous responses to COVID-19 across the world — with some places engaging in "zero-COVID" policies, others with limited responses, and widely variable vaccine availability and uptake.

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5

Dr. Fauci Predicts We Will All Need Booster Shots 

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The FDA will soon recommend booster shots to those Americans who are immunocompromised. "It's a true statement that we believe sooner or later, you will need a booster for durability of protection," said Dr. Anthony Fauci. "We are evaluating this on a day by day, week by week, month by month basis, looking at any of a number of studies, both international and domestic studies, and as stated many times, right at this moment, apart from the immunocompromised, we do not believe that others elderly or non elderly who are not immunocompromised need a vaccine right at this moment, but this is a dynamic process and the data will be evaluated. The one thing we are doing is we are preparing for the eventuality of doing that. So if the data shows us that, in fact, we do need to do that, we'll be very ready to do it and do it expeditiously."

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6

How to Stay Safe Out There Right Now

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.
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Follow Fauci's fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek