COVID pandemic: Will omicron help shift to endemic as eradication remains unlikely?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The first omicron variant in Illinois was tested at a Rush University Medical Center lab in December after sequencing COVID samples from across the city of Chicago.

"Since then it has climbed to 90% plus of the samples we are sequencing of Omicron now that took about 3 weeks to from basically undetectable to greater than 90%," said Stephen Green, director of Rush Genomics and Microbiome Core Facility.

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The highly transmissible variant is responsible for long testing lines, higher positivity rates and big jumps in hospitalizations. It also could be responsible for causing the pandemic to become an endemic.

"We don't know the answer, but it is a good possibility it will be with us in some form indefinitely," Green said.

Infectious disease experts say wiping out COVID for good is likely not going to happen, but with vaccinations and enough people getting COVID that the virus will become endemic, meaning a sporadic disease the remains circulating within a population.

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"Cold viruses are endemic; that is a good example of an endemic virus," Green explained.

But UIC infectious diseases Chief Dr. Richard Novak said there is a long way to go before the pandemic becomes endemic. He said it may take a few more years, depending on future variants.

"No we probably won't be carrying vaccine cards forever, but eventually we will have a virus that is endemic and will cause mild illness and become sporadic," Novak said.

Dr. Novak hopes COVID will follow the same path as other viruses: As they keep mutating, they tend to become less pathogenic, which results in mild illness.
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