How You’ll Know When the Pandemic Is Contained
There will be no dramatic end to the pandemic, but we can at least look for these four signs that it’s under control
After a dark, lonely winter — when cases of Covid-19 ravaged the globe, surpassing 2 million deaths in mid-January, and with new variants cropping up — we seem to have begun emerging from the absolute worst. Spring’s fate is up in the air, but the ramped-up vaccine program under the new administration is sending hopeful signals. Seeing more and more friends and family posting vaccine selfies on social media amid climbing vaccination rates makes the end of the pandemic feel a little more tangible, in some ways.
But when we say “the end,” what exactly do we mean?
It’s challenging to know when a pandemic will be over, because by definition, a pandemic is an epidemic occurring on multiple continents. Covid-19 may be on the downslope of wreaking havoc in the United States, but what about elsewhere?
Experts caution that there likely won’t be a complete end to Covid-19: Sporadic, small outbreaks may continue around the world. And even getting to that point is not on the fast track.
“The pandemic is not going to end in a bang; it’s going to end in a whimper,” says Syra Madad, an infectious disease epidemiologist at New York City Health + Hospitals, and “getting to Covid zero is unrealistic.” But the world can fall below epidemic levels of the virus as it fades into the background.
If we can accept that Covid is here to stay, how do we make it like other infectious diseases that we just live with fairly safely? Experts say that the best way to think about Covid-19 might be to think about when we will have contained it. They cite four benchmarks that could signal that containment.
Extremely low caseloads
One sign that we may have entered pandemic containment is if caseloads fall below two to four per 100,000 people, says Jessica Malaty Rivera, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the The Atlantic’s Covid Tracking Project. Currently, most U.S. states still have moderate (10 to 50 cases per 100,000) to high (more than 100 cases per 100,000 people) levels of transmission…