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We’re Thinking About Endemicity All Wrong

The Atlantic: “This one word has come to imply a single pandemic end point. Actually, we have no idea what happens next.By now, we’ve all heard some version of how this ends. The same story has certainly been told often enough: We missed our chance to wipe the new coronavirus out, and now we’re stuck with it. Our vaccines are stellar at protecting against serious disease and death, but not comprehensive or durable enough to quash the virus for good. What lies yonder, then, is endemicity—a post-pandemic future in which, some say, our relationship with the virus becomes simple, trifling, and routine, each infection no more concerning than a flu or common cold. Endemicity, so the narrative goes, is how normal life resumes. (Some pundits and politicians would argue that we are, actually, already at endemicity—or, at the very least, we should be acting as if we are.) It is how a devastating pandemic virus ends up docile. Endemicity promises exactly none of this. Really, the term to which we’ve pinned our post-pandemic hopes has so many definitions that it means almost nothing at all. What lies ahead is, still, a big uncertain mess, which the word endemic does far more to obscure than to clarify. “This distinction between pandemic and endemic has been put forward as the checkered flag,” a clear line where restrictions disappear overnight, COVID-related anxieties are put to rest, and we are “done” with this crisis, Yonatan Grad, an infectious-disease expert at Harvard, told us. That’s not the case. And there are zero guarantees on how or when we’ll reach endemicity, or whether we’ll reach it at all…”

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