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Pandemic to endemic: OSU historian uses 1918 pandemic to predict COVID stages

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CORVALLIS, Ore. --- Oregon State University historian Christopher McKnight Nichols said his research based on the 1918 flu pandemic indicates the coronavirus pandemic could eventually become endemic.

He said in 1918 almost 200,000 Americans died in one month, which is considered the most deadly month in American pandemic history.

“We’ve got vaccines, and we’ve got treatments. They didn’t have any of those,” Nichols said.

Eventually, there came a point in the early 1900's where the weather got warmer, and the flu turned into a seasonal virus that people learned to live with. Nichols believes we could see that same course of action with COVID-19.

“It's bad for some people unfortunately but it won't be bad for the majority,” Nichols said.

Though some believe we’re at the end of the pandemic, Nichols, along with many medical professionals believe that’s not the case. Nichols said based on the past, it could be some time before we reach the endemic stage.

“The human beings out there who don't have protection from the worst devastations of the disease are essentially petri dishes for mutations that become things like omicron,” he said.

The lower vaccination rates in some areas means it could be some time before COVID turns into a seasonal flu, though Nichols believes it’s possible.

"Maybe it's 2023, but that seems to be what we're looking at as the historical parallel that fits best,” he said.

Until that time comes, he said everyone should continue to practice masking, social distancing, and keeping crowds as small as possible in order to limit the spread.

"In this moment where the US has surging cases all over the place, ICU’s are all full in a lot of cities and states -- it's a good moment to say ‘Hey these measures work. How can I build them into my everyday life?’" Nichols said.

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