SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Could 2023 finally be the year that COVID-19 becomes more of a thing of the past rather than a threat of the present? Infectious diseases experts are beginning to feel more confident about that.
As health emergencies end across the country and in the Bay Area, UCSF Infectious Diseases Expert Dr. Peter Chin-Hong can finally say with confidence that society can collectively breathe a maskless sigh of relief.
"I think this is a critical year because this is the year that COVID will become endemic," Dr. Chin-Hong said.
Dr. Chin-Hong believes COVID is becoming predictable thanks to the amount of immunity in society as well as tools like treatment and vaccines.
On top of this, he thinks yearly vaccines may only be needed by the most vulnerable and people over 65.
"We as a society have to be prepared for as much as 100,000 to 250,000 people a year dying of those vulnerable groups," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "But, in general for your average person, it will probably fizzle out."
Dr. Chin-Hong says COVID-19 was likely a once in a century sort-of threat, but that does not rule out the risk of other pandemics in the future.
He says conditions like the population growing and expanding into areas where disease-carrying animals live, climate change and globalization make other threats possible.
"All these reasons make it likely that we will get a public health threat in our lifetime," Dr. Chin-Hong said. "But whether or not it's going to be the same magnitude of COVID-19 is probably less likely. But it will still be something that will cause some concern."
And that's where public health departments come in.
"It is exactly the work of a local public health department to not just be thinking of the last threat and what's making our community ill right now, but what could be coming around the corner," Santa Clara County Deputy Public Health Officer Dr. Sarah Rudman said.
Dr. Rudman told us the county is in the recovery stage of the pandemic - assessing what happened and where they could improve.
While they believe they saved many lives thanks to the steps the public health department and residents took to combat the virus, she cited structural inequities and a lack of investment in public health as reasons why people were vulnerable.
As the next threat looms, the county is working to be more prepared.
"That we have the investment in technology, in science, in workforce and in community partnerships that we need for whatever's next," Dr. Rudman said.
But for now, there is reason for most to feel safe living life once again.
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