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When could COVID-19 become an endemic like the flu or common cold?

An endemic is where many hope COVID-19 is going. It means there's a low level of acceptable disease.

ATLANTA — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed mask guidance for about 70% of Americans Friday. That's left many people wondering could we be to the point of learning to live with the virus, similar to the flu or common cold?

The CDC said most people don't have to mask up if they live in areas where COVID-19 hospitalizations, hospital beds used, and cases are low to moderate.

“The next step is to wait and watch," Dr. Richard Rothenberg said. 

That's what Dr. Richard Rothenberg, a regents professor at the Georgia State University's School of Public Health, said the medical community will be doing. 

“There are three words pandemic, epidemic and endemic," Rothenberg said. 

He said a pandemic is when a disease spreads over several countries or continents, and it affects a large number of people.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

“As we speak of something as epidemic, we mean that it is on the upswing and we are experiencing a lot of disease," Rothenberg said. 

An endemic is where many hope COVID-19 is going. It means there's a low level of acceptable disease.

“The infection or whatever it is that we're talking about is embedded in the population," Rothenberg said. "It's there, and it can take a number of forms. It can just be constant throughout a period of time. It can be in increases that are often seasonal, such as influenza. It can die out and recur."

The WHO weighed in this week and said it's a gray area where COVID-19 goes from here.

Experts have recommendations on what you're encouraged to do once COVID-19 reached endemic levels. 

“It seems to me that the answer here is obvious for how to get out of this to get to an endemic stage. We can only vaccinate our way out of this pandemic," Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee, said.

Rothenberg added that people who are older or who have underlying diseases may want to continue wearing their masks. 

“What we learned in the winter of 2021 was that if you wear masks, and a lot of people did for a long period of time, instead of 50,000 flu deaths, there were 200 during that season," Rothenberg said. 

Fayette County Public Schools announced Wednesday it will treat COVID-19 as an endemic.

Those at the CDC encourage those who are more comfortable wearing to continue doing so.

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