AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As local hospitals like BSA Health Systems celebrate having no COVID-19 patients after more than two years, the federal government works to increase the availability of antiviral treatments, and companies like Moderna continue to pursue COVID-19 vaccinations for children younger than six, optimism has begun to seep into a traumatized US.

Despite the good news, health experts appear torn on whether or not the pandemic is ending and debate whether COVID-19 in the US has moved into an ‘endemic’ phase of existence.

One of those experts, this week, included Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase,” Fauci said during an interview with PBS News Hour. “Namely, we don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now,”

However, on Wednesday this week, Fauci walked back his comments by saying that the country is simply “in a different moment of the pandemic.”

“We’ve now decelerated and transitioned into more of a controlled phase,” Fauci told The Associated Press. “By no means does that mean the pandemic is over.”

Fauci said that the country seems to be out of what he called the “fulminant phase” of the pandemic, huge variant surges that at their worst sparked hundreds of thousands of infections daily, along with tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. Although cases of COVID-19 are increasing in many areas of the country, the numbers are at a lower point than they have been in months. Further, around two-thirds of the US population has been vaccinated.

Fauci walking back his statement only added to a cocktail of reports that can appear to conflict regarding positive strides in the COVID-19 pandemic versus reports of rising case numbers and lower vaccination rates in some areas. What exactly is a pandemic? What makes a disease or virus endemic? Are things really getting better? What should people do in the meantime?

A pandemic is defined as a situation in which a disease is prevalent over a whole country or the world. Despite any progress made in solely the US, for example, Fauci noted that the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging on a global scale.

An endemic disease is defined as one that is natural or native to, or widespread within, a place or population. For example, malaria is considered to be “endemic” to tropical regions. An “endemic” classification usually indicates that a disease will be present somewhere permanently.

A pandemic can shift into an endemic in a situation where it has a worldwide reach, like COVID-19. Fauci and other experts have noted that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely mean the virus reaches an endemic state where it will always be prevalent but can also be prevented, treated, and otherwise controlled effectively.

As for whether or not the COVID-19 situation in the US is improving, Fauci noted that “we’ve now decelerated and transitioned into more of a controlled phase,” and are in a much better position than a year ago, even if the pandemic is not over.

“We can’t take our foot off the pedal,” Fauci said. “There’s a lot of viral dynamics throughout the world and we still may get another variant which could lead to another potential surge.”

In order to keep the US improving, and to work towards an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fauci offered a few points of advice for the country on a broader scale:

  • Get more people fully vaccinated
  • Develop even better vaccines
  • Figure out the best booster strategy to counter variants
  • Make sure people can access treatment as soon as they need it

On a more individual level, Fauci and other health leaders have continued to encourage everyone eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. More information on COVID-19 vaccinations, tests, and antibody infusions in the Amarillo area can be found here, as well as COVID-19 treatment opportunities.