January 27 2022 – 06:00
What does ‘endemic’ Covid actually mean? The experts don’t agree
Predicting how Covid-19 will behave next remains notoriously hard. Predicting how humans will react is much easier, since history can be a guide.
One of the most prescient articles written about the pandemic’s future was Gina Kolata’s May 2020 New York Times piece How Pandemics End, with historians of medicine describing society’s reactions to Ebola, bubonic plague and the 1918 flu pandemic. There’s a biological end to a pandemic, when cases and death rates fall, and a social end, when people get tired of being afraid, accept a certain amount of risk and resume social and commercial life. The social end sometimes comes first.
After two years of living with Covid, it’s not surprising that many folks are far less fearful of the virus and are eager to go back to a more normal existence. People want a word to describe the better future we envision. In 2020, we talked about herd immunity. In 2022, we say “endemic” instead.