Experts say the COVID-19 emergency may end this year. How will you look?

On the cusp of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is battling the largest wave of the virus to date with an omicron variant.

Cases, even as they recede in some places, are close to record levels. And daily deaths, while lower than last winter’s peak, are still averaging more than 2,000 nationwide.

Despite the fierce battles over masks and vaccines, life seems fairly normal in many respects – children go to school, people go to work, large indoor gatherings and events are organized.

So, while it may be hard to imagine, many experts suggest that 2022 could be the year COVID becomes endemic, meaning it always spreads in populations but at low rates or causes only seasonal disease outbreaks.

MORE: Two years after COVID first hit the US, hundreds of thousands of Americans are still getting sick

During a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said the United States could get “sufficient control” of COVID-19 so it “doesn’t bother us in society, it doesn’t control our lives, it doesn’t stop us.” [from doing] things that we generally do under normal existence.”

This is because the virus will start to run out of people to infect as people become immune and follow mitigation measures such as wearing masks and testing if they have symptoms.

“We have the tools with vaccines, boosters, masks, tests and antiviral drugs,” Fauci said.

As an endemic disease, COVID-19 will go from becoming a global health emergency to a virus that the world is learning to live with.

Photo: Travelers pass a banner offering free COVID-19 vaccines and a booster shot at a pop-up clinic in the International Arrivals area at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, December 22, 2021 (Frederick J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)

Public health experts say many societal changes are needed while the virus is spreading but not devastating, such as targeted testing, more vaccination, better treatments and allowances to stay at home when you are sick.

“We really need to shift our thinking to how to live with this virus rather than making it go away completely,” Dr. Timothy Brewer, professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told ABC News. “So I think we need to kind of go into a mode of minimizing the impact of the virus as possible in terms of health and economic and social disruption – realizing that this virus is going to be there.”

Patients are advised to stay at home or wear masks in public

When the virus becomes endemic, experts say people will be advised not to go to school or work while sick and instead stay at home, unlike before the pandemic.

If you have to leave the house, it may still be common practice to wear a mask during public transportation or indoors.

More: Labor shortages, flight delays contribute to slow delivery of rapid tests

“It will become a culture that if you are sick, you will stay home,” Dr. Wafaa Al-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told ABC News. “Don’t come to work, don’t go to school, don’t send your children to school. There will be a greater appreciation for the collective responsibility we have to one another.”

Currently, federal law does not require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees although some states, such as California, New York, and Washington, have laws that require it.

Antiviral drugs may become more common in doctors’ offices and hospitals

In addition to vaccines, some antiviral treatments, from Pfizer and Merck, have appeared in the past several months, specifically for those who have tested positive or have recently developed symptoms.

Studies have shown that these antiviral medications can help prevent hospitalization, especially those at risk of severe disease.

Experts stress that even after the emergency phase is over, antiviral drugs should not be considered a substitute for vaccines, but rather an additional layer of protection, especially for high-risk groups.

Photo: People have drinks and have dinner on the outside patio at La Boheme in West Hollywood as the coronavirus spreads on July 8, 2020, in Los Angeles, California (Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, FILE)

“The distribution of antivirals is really important in terms of making sure that people who are immunocompromised and people with disabilities have that kind of protection,” Abdullah Shepar, a public health researcher at Brown University, told ABC News.

Pryor agrees and says he believes the treatments for COVID-19 will be similar to those for HIV in that they will improve and improve over time.

“HIV is no less pathogenic today than it was 40 years ago, but the difference is that we have very effective treatments and we have excellent antivirals against HIV,” he said. “So I think as antivirals become available, they will play a very important role” in the fight against COVID-19.

Shehbar says he hopes the federal government will come up with a long-term plan for distribution whether that means people can sign up for a program to get cheap subsidized drugs, set up in pharmacies, have them delivered to rural areas and so on.

Testing would be more strategic like screening people with symptoms

Currently, the United States has a model based on two types of tests: a diagnosis for people who show symptoms to see if they are positive for COVID, and a preventive for people who are asymptomatic to ensure they are not infected before participating in activities or seeing others.

But in a world where COVID-19 is more seasonal to the virus, experts say the country will have to switch to more focused testing, with a particular focus on symptoms.

MORE: As new variables emerge, the US government is turning its attention to a universal coronavirus vaccine

“Now we’re kind of testing just to test everyone, it has to be more focused,” Al-Sadr said. “For asymptomatic people, if you have symptoms, it’s a good idea to get tested, sure. So I think focusing on people who are asymptomatic would be very important.”

Currently, an average of 1.7 million tests are performed daily in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say that during peak periods, at least 2 million are needed to keep up with demand. Supplies have been short in some cases as manufacturers ramp up production of tests at home and Omicron is resetting infection levels in the country.

Al-Sadr also says the test can be used for specific high-risk activities such as eating indoors with family members who are not immunized or having a social gathering with an immunocompromised person as opposed to generally indoor gatherings.

“We have to think about what the strategic use of the test is,” Al-Sadr added.

PHOTO: Medical staff from Riverside University Health Systems Hospitals (Calif.) administer a COVID-19 test at a drive-through test site in the Diamond Stadium, March 22, 2020 in Lake Elsinore, California (Bob Riha Jr/Getty Images, FILE)

Brewer believes that the testing programs currently in place in schools, such as testing students before returning and then taking a weekly test, will not work in the long term.

“It is a logistically and financially cumbersome, expensive and slow process,” he said. “Because we know that up to 40% or more of people can be asymptomatic when infected and we know that asymptomatic people can spread disease, we just need to act on the assumption that anyone might be infected and that with things like hand hygiene and vaccination rather than relying on a testing strategy.”

Improved ventilation standards can be implemented in workplaces and schools

Experts say improving indoor air quality will be one of the most important tasks, especially as states begin to roll back mandates and mitigation measures.

Making sure indoor air is recirculated will lower infection rates and prevent outbreaks.

MORE: US COVID-19 vaccine boost campaign slows, with 85 million eligible Americans left without extra dose

Shihpar says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has standards for healthcare settings (which have since expired) that should be expanded to all workplaces.

“We need to change the way we treat indoor air, like how to properly ventilate these spaces — not just for COVID but for flu and all these other diseases,” he said. “How do we make the air cleaner so disease spreads less?”

He continued, “We need emergency temporary workplace standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One for all workers that employers would actually organize to make their workplaces safe in terms of ventilation, in terms of capacity.”

Shehbar added that he would like to see the government give each teacher a certain number of portable air filters for their rooms and governments and set clear air regulation standards for school districts.

Photo: Students pass a beach ball to the next person on the list during the conference call on the first day of class at Laguna Niguel Elementary School in Laguna Niguel, California on August 17, 2021 (MediaNews Group via Getty Images, FILE)

We may need annual COVID vaccinations

Experts have suggested that annual COVID-19 vaccinations, just like the flu shot, could become a reality in a world where the virus is endemic to keep antibody levels high.

It can even be adapted to resist variants, only the flu vaccine is made to fight the strains that researchers believe will be most dominant.

It will depend on two factors, Brewer said: how long immunity lasts after vaccination and how much the virus has changed.

Experts say the COVID-19 emergency may end this year. How will you look? Originally appeared abcnews.go.com

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