The decline in daily COVID cases and hospitalizations is good news for the U.S., though health experts are warning to practice caution.
“Nobody knows for sure,” Dr. Jay Schnitzer, chief medical officer at MITRE, a nonprofit that operates federally funded research, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “But I, too, am cautiously optimistic that we are getting close to the end of the pandemic phase and hopefully entering the endemic phase. The numbers are certainly coming down dramatically, particularly with Omicron over the past few weeks, and hopefully will continue to do so."
A disease outbreak is defined as endemic when it is "consistently present but limited to a particular region [which] makes the disease spread and rates predictable," according to Columbia University's School of Public Health.
In other words, Schnitzer expressed tentative hope that the coronavirus may soon become manageable enough to no longer cause major disruptions to everyday lives, much like the flu virus, but he also noted what can happen if restrictions are lifted too soon.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently stated that while he didn't think it was possible to eradicate the coronavirus, he was hopeful that COVID restrictions "will soon be a thing of the past" as enough people are vaccinated and have antibodies.
'This virus is teaching us humility'
Over the past 14 days, COVID-19 cases have decreased by 66% while the hospitalization rate has dropped by 40%, according to data from the New York Times.
This has led many government leaders to lift restrictions like mask mandates from indoor businesses and schools, though an overwhelming majority of states still have ICUs at 70% capacity or higher.
“My word of caution … is that this virus is teaching us humility every single turn of events over the past two years,” Schnitzer said. “And we’ve got to be a little humble about our projections again today. It could mutate or create a new variant that could create problems for us in the not too distant future. We just don’t know.”
Denmark, a beacon of optimism throughout much of the pandemic, lifted all of its COVID restrictions at the beginning of February and is now experiencing a major surge in cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths. According to Schnitzer, it’s a cautionary tale about what happens when leaders act too soon and lift restrictions prematurely.
“The issue that was for Denmark and still is for the U.S. is that even though we’ve come down a great deal on new cases per day and hospitalizations, we aren’t all the way down to a trough where we need to be and would like to be,” Schnitzer said. “And if we relax on these restrictions too prematurely here in the U.S., we’ll see exactly what’s happening in Denmark.”
His advice is that even if local politicians have removed mask mandates, people should still be cautious on an individual level through behaviors like social distancing, avoiding crowds, and practicing good hygiene.
Plus, Schnitzer added, “if you’re going to an area that’s crowded and indoors and you don’t know the vaccination status around you and you can’t maintain social distancing, even if there’s no mask mandates at that location at that time, it is prudent to wear a mask.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at email@example.com.