If you thought your pandemic days were behind you, you might be living in a fairytale. As of late 2022, the jury is still out on whether COVID-19 has moved from pandemic to endemic status, and the possibility of another pandemic is always on the horizon. As recently as September 2022, major cities in China such as Chengdu were under total lockdown.
According to an official count by the World Health Organization (WHO), 630 million cases of SARS-CoV-2 were confirmed. Evidence suggests that many people were asymptomatic carriers or had the illness without testing, so the actual rate of infection is difficult to pin down. WHO reports almost 7 million deaths directly caused by COVID-19 worldwide, but these numbers are disputed as well, with many believing they are much higher due to deaths from co-morbidities exacerbated by the illness. In layman’s terms, it’s been a real shitshow.
Isolation, social distancing, better hygiene, masking, and vaccines have saved many lives since early 2020, and we’re well on the way to endemic status. That’s great news for everyone who’s sick of COVID-19, but what about the next major pandemic?
Odds are good that we’ll be seeing another one before too long.
What Exactly Is a Pandemic?
Sure, you lived it, but do you know all the boring stuff? The “pan” part of pandemic means “all,” so it’s a broadly contagious disease outbreak affecting all or almost all places on earth, i.e. multiple continents.
But what about the 2002-2004 outbreak of SARS-CoV-1 (aka SARS) across 29 countries that resulted in 8,000 infections and 770 deaths? That was not a pandemic. It was an epidemic! Same goes for the periodic Ebola outbreaks in Africa.
So how do they decide? WHO is in charge of declaring pandemic probability in six stages, and epidemic falls just short of full blown pandemic status:
|Stage||Estimated Probability of Pandemic||Description|
|1||Uncertain||No new outbreaks among animals|
|2||Uncertain||New outbreaks in animals, but not humans|
|3||Uncertain||Humans have been infected by animals but no human-to-human transmission has happened|
|4||Medium to high||Human-to-human infection has been recorded, but is restricted to a small region|
|5||High to certain||Human-to-human transmission has grown, but has not spread worldwide (this stage is commonly called an epidemic)|
|6||Pandemic in progress||Human-to-human transmission is common globally (for example, H1N1 Swine Flu of 2009, COVID-19, and HIV/AIDS)|
Epidemics can be as stressful as pandemics for the people affected; it all depends on the severity of the illness being spread. Consider this your guide to epidemic preparedness as well!