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Harvard Expert Says Don't Assume COVID Is 'Done With Us' On Pandemic's Second Anniversary

BOSTON (CBS) – Friday marks two years since the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

On March 11, 2020, the world was facing down a new virus that was capable of spreading so easily, but it had many unknowns.

"We already knew enough about it to know that it was going to be serious and it proved to be serious," said Dr. Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Nearly 80 million people have since been infected in the U.S. and more than 950,000 have died after experiencing surge after surge, from variants like Alpha, Delta and Omicron.

In Massachusetts, there have been 1.67 million cases and 23,708 deaths, according to the CDC.

Since the Omicron surge around the holidays, cases are declining and mask mandates are being lifted.

"Everyone wants to know whether there is another variant is coming. I'll tell you what, I don't know. But I will tell you that I never bet against natural selection," Dr. Hanage said.

"We shouldn't be assuming that the virus is done with us."

So what should we be doing now?

"We should be maintaining our ability to test. We should be enhancing our ability to produce new vaccines, if and when they are needed," Dr. Bill Hanage said. "We should be redoubling our efforts to get shots into the arms of those who need them most. "

The other big question - when will we reach the endemic phase, which doesn't mean the virus disappears, but rather that we're not seeing large case spikes.

"I don't think we're in that state just yet, although hopefully we're going to be in a state where we have got the kind of amount of disease that we can afford to not be obsessing about it all the time," Dr. Bill Hanage said.

He notes that while we are in a far better place than two years ago, we need learn from this experience that pandemics don't simply go away.

"If we sweep them under the rug, they come back stronger. They come back harder. They kill more people," he said.

Dr. Hanage added that he thinks we should be preparing for a fourth booster for vulnerable populations next fall and winter.

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