As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow around the world, governments and health professionals are increasingly turning their attention to managing the virus in the community. But this means we need to change our own mindset. Instead of running from the virus, we may need to learn how to live with it.

Their are two main reasons governments are moving away from a ‘keep it out’ strategy, to a ‘manage the peak’ one instead. The first is that many countries have run successful vaccine campaigns, and we now have very high levels of vaccinated populations. The second is that the Omicron variant has become dominant, and it appears to be much less severe than previous variants. I would add a third important reason to this list. Reinfection rates of COVID-19 remain relatively low, and effects seem to be mild.

Vaccination

More than 10 billion vaccine doses have been administered around the world. And some 60% of the worldwide population have received at least one dose. You can see this data yourself at the Ourwoldindata.org website. Many western countries have already exceeded the ‘herd immunity’ requirement of around 70% of the population. This is really good news, and has allowed governments to significantly change their management strategy.

Omicron

Omicron is a significantly more infectious variant of COVID-19, almost 4 times more infectious, and has quickly become the dominant variant because of this. It now accounts for most of the positive cases in western countries. Fortunately for us, it appears to be less severe. Public Health Scotland research showed Omicron was about two-thirds less likely to put someone in hospital. And research noted on News Medical shows for those hospitalised with Omicron, there’s a 74% less chance of ending up in intensive care, and 91% reduced death rate. With less pressure on their hospital intensive care units, governments are moving from ‘lockdowns’ to ‘live with’, and the strategy seems to be working.

Reinfection Rate

Reinfection rate is the rate at which people catch COVID-19 twice. The reinfection rate of COVID has been really low, less than 1%, which is why cases peak, and then slowly begin falling. This is really important. As long as people aren’t catching COVID twice, hospitals won’t be overrun. Although Omicron has seen the reinfection rate increase sharply, around 90% of people still aren’t catching COVID twice. Again, with less pressure on the health system, governments have been given a reprieve to refocus their efforts on community management.

Learning to Live with Covid – Endemic vs Epidemic

We all know how important language is, and how important it is that we use the same words, to mean the same things. This is very true when it comes to the complicated language used in the health sector. The important language here are the words Epidemic, Pandemic and Endemic.

Epidemic is a disease outbreak that effects are large number of people contained to a community, a population, or a region. A good example of an Epidemic is the Ebola outbreak, that was devastating, but contained to western Africa.

A Pandemic is when an epidemic spreads over multiple countries, or continents, and is no longer contained. A pandemic example we’ve heard a lot of comparisons about recently is the Spanish flu global pandemic in 1918.

Endemic is something that belongs to a community, or to a population. So when we say a disease has become ‘endemic’ that means it’s become part of the community. An example here would be the common cold.

Endemic vs Epidemic

So that’s the English lesson out of the way then! What does this all mean for COVID-19 and for us learning to live with COVID?

Most vaccine experts around the world now agree that COVID-19 will become ‘endemic’ in the community. This means that we’ll progress from the current pandemic crisis, to COVID being thought of more like the flu. There is a time coming fairly soon, within a year or two probably, when most of us have caught COVID, most of us are resistant to COVID reinfection, and hospitalisation rates from COVID have plummeted. But COVID will not go away:

In January, Nature asked more than 100 immunologists, infectious-disease researchers and virologists working on the coronavirus whether it could be eradicated. Almost 90% of respondents think that the coronavirus will become endemic.”

As COVID-19 becomes endemic in the community, many experts believe it will behave more like the flu, possibly even the common cold. Although not quite ‘related’, COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, the flu by influenza viruses, and the cold by rhinoviruses, they do behave in a similar way.

So to learn to live with COVID in the community, we may need to think of COVID more like the cold or the flu.

Learning to Live with Covid – How to Change our Mindset

So just like we now have a ‘cold and flu’ season, generally in the colder months of winter when we spend more times together indoors, we could have a ‘covid’ season. Possibly in the summer months, very few people will catch COVID, then during winter there will be a small peak of COVID cases.

The virus is likely to keep evolving too. And we could see vaccinations evolve right alongside, with perhaps an annual booster used by at-risk populations.

Importantly, over time babies and young children will be exposed to the virus very early on. Fortunately, children have much less severe side-effects to COVID-19 currently. So you can expect this to look something like the cold or flu too. We try to keep our children, and most especially babies, away from viruses as much as we can. But actually they’re exposed all the time, which is how they build their immune system.

We can also expect the management of COVID-19 to transition from a vaccination mindset, to a preventative mindset. Just like we up our vitamin intake over winter, there will be natural remedies that reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 too. Cold and flu research has taught us so much about how exercise, sunlight, and basic nutrients like zinc can help prevent an infection. There will be substantial prevention research conducted on COVID-19 too.

Learning not to be afraid of COVID-19

Probably the most important step towards changing our mindset about COVID-19, is learning not to be afraid of COVID. Not many of us are afraid of dying of the flu right? But did you know, on average up to 50,000 people die each year from the flu.

These people tend to be the elderly, very young babies, and the immuno-compromised. And some of these groups will remain at risk of severe complications from COVID-19 too. We need to keep those groups protected. But the reason we’re not afraid of the cold or flu, is that for 99% of us, we aren’t going to die from it.

Unfortunately, governments and especially some media around the world, could be criticized for highlighting the very worst of COVID-19, and telling very few good news stories. This use of fear and scaremongering may have been useful in terms of lockdown compliance, and getting our vaccination rates up. But it doesn’t serve us over the long term, where we need to move away from fear towards learning to live with COVID in the community.

Let’s hope from here the narrative starts to change and become more positive. Let’s hope we start to really focus on prevention measures, beyond just a vaccine. And let’s hope that the more conscious media outlets move on from their fascination of death-rates, and peak-number charts, and start actually informing us on keeping well.

Changing your mindset

In the meantime though, here’s 3 things you can do right now, to start changing the mindset in your home:

  • Turn off the media tap. If you’ve gotten into the habit of logging in to see the latest stats on positive case numbers, or tuning into the news to see latest death rates in your country, try to turn off the tap. If all you see, or hear, or read about COVID is bad news, you’ll remain in a state of stress and anxiety, and find it almost impossible to move on.
  • Talk to your children in a positive way about COVID. Don’t add to their anxiety, it’s a crazy time for our kids right now. Paint them a positive story about the future, where COVID is endemic, and where people have moved past fear, to a place of kindness and caring, and the world has opened up again. Talking to your kids in this way, not only helps them, but it help you move away from fear too. So a double-whammy.
  • Learn more about what anxiety and stress are, and how to manage them. It’s safe to say almost all of us have experienced various levels of stress, anxiety and even all-out fear when it comes to COVID. Learning how to deal with anxiety generally, will help you to work through COVID-related anxiety. Then you can help your kids to work through it too. And that will reinforce your own learning. Here’s some excellent resources to make a start: How to Bring Mindfulness into your Home, and Helping Children Adapt to Change, and How Your Stress Affects Your Kids.
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Jarrod is a quintessential Kiwi Dad. He lives in Manakau, and works from a home office, overlooking his chickens and bees. His inspiration and motivation in life come from his wife and two children.

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