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Published on August 25, 2020

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How Does a Pandemic End?

After months of social distancing and trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve you may find yourself asking: when will this pandemic end?

First, let’s define what’s considered a pandemic versus an epidemic.

Pandemic: An epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people. COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organization.

Epidemic: The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.

By this definition, the pandemic ends when the virus is no longer prevalent throughout the world or in multiple countries/regions.

Here’s how that can happen:

  • A vaccine or an effective treatment is developed – this would be the most desirable option. Think of polio – an epidemic, not a pandemic – which came to a medical end with a vaccine.
  • Infection and death rates plummet – also considered a medical end. That’s how the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 ended ­– those infected either died or developed immunity.
  • People simply get tired of living in fear, and learn to live in a world with the disease. This is considered a social ending, which is not an actual end since the disease itself doesn’t go away. In this situation the disease may continue to spread, which can delay the medical end.

Learning to live in a world with COVID-19 doesn’t mean permanent quarantine. We can live our lives with a few modifications.

Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for masking, social distancing and hand washing can help protect us until we have a medical ending – hopefully with a vaccine or an effective treatment.

Get more resources about decreasing your risk of COVID-19.

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