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After omicron surge, what comes next? One infectious disease doctor weighs in with two scenarios

After nearly two years in pandemic mode and the latest omicron variant surge wreaking havoc, there are a couple scenarios that could emerge.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the world approaches two years under a COVID-19 pandemic and the latest variant of the virus brings unprecedented case and patient counts, many are eager to turn the page on this weary coronavirus storyline.

Health experts have been using term "endemic" more and more during this latest phase, painting images of an eventual time the U.S. lives with the coronavirus like any other virus.

So, could society be headed towards this endemic stage? Could that be what follows this current omicron variant surge?

Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health, said it is one possibility. He described how that might play out -- if it indeed comes to fruition.

"The hope certainly is that as omicron comes through, and so many people have had it, many people have been vaccinated, many people been vaccinated and had it -- that will give us some degree of herd immunity going forward," Priest said. "The next variants that come... while they may be contagious, don't cause a severe disease, and then we move into that endemic phase."

However, Priest said there could also be another path, driven by what he calls a "wildcard," a variant that does not respond to all the immunity the community has been building thus far between vaccinations and omicron.

That path would lead further into the pandemic.

"Obviously, we hope that's not the case, and we can move into a different period," Priest said. "I'm also hopeful as newer antiviral agents come to market... and monoclonal antibody supplies ramp up, that we'll have more effective treatments that will help keep the burden out of hospitals going forward."

The coronavirus burden on hospitals has been growing by the day.

Wednesday, North Carolina set another hospitalization record with nearly 4,700 COVID-positive patients reported. The state has been seeing nearly one in three people testing positive for the virus over the last two weeks.

So which of the two scenarios will play out? Priest said, unfortunately, that is hard to predict.

"I am not arrogant enough to say that I have the answers to a question that a lot of really smart people in the last two years have made a lot of predictions about," Priest said. "Almost all of them have been wrong."

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