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Central Iowa health leaders weigh in on if the end of the pandemic is near

When the pandemic reaches the "endemic" phase, doctors say there will be fewer cases and they will be less severe.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds' final COVID-19 disaster proclamation expired Tuesday night, but local health officials say COVID-19 isn't going away with it.

Dallas County Health Department administrator Abigial Chihak said there isn't a magic endpoint.

"It's not something that we're necessarily going to be like, 'Oh, today's the day,' right, it's probably going to be something where we look back, and we say, 'Oh, that's probably when it ended,'" Chihak said.

Dr. Ravi Vemuri, a medical director of infection prevention at MercyOne, believes we will have a better understanding of how close we are to the end of the pandemic in the upcoming weeks.

"In Polk County today, it sits at about 63 new cases per 100,000 population. We like to see that number driven down to below 10 per 100,000," Vemuri said.

While that's still a high number, Vemuri said it's a big improvement from around 200 cases per 100,000 a few weeks ago.

"So in that sense, we're we're on a very steep downslope, but community transmission is still happening, Vemuri said. "So over the next few weeks, hopefully that gets to that level, where we can say that, you know, it's finally behind us."

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Chihak sees COVID-19 eventually becoming much like the flu and tuberculosis. She said it will always be around, but the goal is to significantly reduce risks and cases.

"We're not expecting it to just disappear," Chihak said. "And we're really expecting it to kind of get into that endemic phase. So we're going to see, hopefully, less cases and see less severe cases, less burden on our hospital system, but it is still going to be around."

Vemuri said when it comes to the recipe to end the pandemic, health leaders are calling for the same ingredients.

"Coming to the end of the pandemic literally means we have enough people that are vaccinated, or we have enough people that are vaccinated and adequately boosted," he said. "And for those that are not vaccinated, we have enough people that became infected, and those people hopefully will have some degree of immunity—although not as good as being vaccinated, not as long lasting—they will have some immunity."

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At that point, Vemuri says the pandemic will wind down. But in the mean time, he said declining cases don't tell the whole story.

"Even though they're on a downward slope, they're still high," he said. "So people still need to be careful, and practice good distancing and masking and hand washing and all those other things."

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