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Is COVID-19 Entering The Endemic Phase?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota's average COVID-19 positivity rate is below 5%, and cases are their lowest since August.

But does that mean we have reached the endemic phase of COVID?

"I can't tell you what endemic disease means with COVID," University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy Director Dr. Michael Osterholm said.

Osterholm is one of the authors in a 136-page COVID road map that aims to look at "the next normal" of COVID and ways to avoid the disruptions to society in the last two years.

"The question I ask is what happens if we go through an entire quiet period of the summer and then in fall see a major new surge in cases," Osterholm said. "Do we go back to the pandemic or is it still endemic?"

Osterholm and other experts believe COVID could turn into a seasonal flu-like illness, or in a worse case could become a new, more contagious, deadlier strain that evades vaccine protection.

Osterholm says experts will be watching the next variants closely.

"If we follow the points made in our plan we will in fact be in a much better position to deal with whatever comes our way," he said.

The plan offers many recommendations. Things like aiming for an 85% vaccination rate, improving air quality in buildings, and a public health strategy to combat misinformation.

"It was the first time in modern public health the community lost trust in public health," Osterholm said.

He did not feel there was good communication to the public when it came to masking for much of the pandemic. He said a mask mandate "means nothing" unless people are wearing high quality masks (like N95s) that are properly worn.

With the peak of Omicron behind, workers heading back to the office, and mask mandates dropping, Minnesotans are still experiencing a new normal for the first time in years.

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