Spring Break? COVID-19 May Finally Become Endemic by Mid-March

Some experts see Omicron starting to peak in the U.S., and “normal” may soon return. In the meantime, unfortunately, be prepared for a rough month or so.

Spring officially starts on March 20, but already ushers in hope on at least two fronts in the struggle against the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the United States. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling last week, most health care workers who want to remain on the job will need to be fully vaccinated by March 15, says the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

CMS says that within 60 days of the its January 14 memorandum (or by March 15), a health care facility must demonstrate that it has developed policies and procedures for the vaccination of staff, and that 100% of staff have been vaccinated. Or the facility must demonstrate that less than 100% of staff has received at least a single dose of a multiple-dose vaccine, or have been granted a “qualifying exemption.”

Also, come this spring the change that we’ve all been waiting for for over two years could finally happen: COVID-19 will stop being a pandemic and settle into the role it will have for now on in as an endemic. Such a shift will allow society to return to normal.

Health workers who have not been fully vaccinated in the 24 states that lost its challenge against the vaccine mandate will need to have had either two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the March 15 deadline, CNN reports. What effect this will have on the staffing shortages plaguing the health care industry—which has lost about 20% of its workers (according to the U.S. Department of Labor) since the shutdowns of March 2020—remains to be scene.

Meanwhile, some medical experts are seeing that the Omicron wave starts to recede. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Axios that though the Omicron trajectory “was incredibly steep and rising to, of course, a new height in infections. That does appear now, in aggregate, to be starting to decline.”

Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine, tells Axios that “it really does feel like the building blocks of a conversion from pandemic to endemic are all there.”

Like almost every other medical expert who talks about COVID-19, Wachter did add the caveat that “over the past two years, if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that this virus surprises us and there are always the possibility of new factors and curveballs.”

Even if COVID-19 does become endemic in the US by mid-March, there’s still a lot of hardship in store between now and then. Hospitals are overburdened and hospital workers exhausted, with nurses particularly saying that new CDC quarantine measures and the measures installed on top of them at individual health care facilities makes it tough to get through days—which often extend to 12 or 16 hours.

Keep an eye on mortality rates because an additional 50,000 to 300,000 more Americans might die from COVID-19 by mid-March, according to the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub website, which projects estimates by reviewing several models.

Katriona Shea, PhD, of Penn State University and one of the co-leaders of the hub, tells the Associated Press, that this mortality rate will be “Omicron driven.” She says that “overall, you’re going to see more sick people even if you as an individual have a lower chance of being sick.”