slip backwards,” Jha adds.
How will COVID mutate?
Scientists don’t expect the virus to keep getting transmissible forever.
“I think there is a limit,” says Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “What we’re really dealing with, though, is there’s still a lot of people across the world who don’t have any prior immunity — either they haven’t been infected or they haven’t had access to vaccination.”
If the baseline level of immunity rises significantly, the rate of infections, and the emergence of more contagious variants, should slow down, according to Binnicker.
Scientists hope this level of immunity will continue, however, as immunity wanes, there is a chance that the virus could mutate in a way that causes more severe illness.
“There’s not any inherent reason, biologically, that the virus has to become milder over time,” said Dr. Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist. The fact it may seem milder now “is likely just the combined effect of all of us having some immune history with the virus.”
What will be the next variant?
Since last year, Omicron has been around leaving behind a series of highly transmissible subvariants. This pattern could continue for at least the next few months, according to Binnicker. However, in the near future, we may see a new variant due to the recent wave of infections and re-infections, which “gives the virus more chances to spread and mutate and new variants to emerge,” Binnicker notes.
Can you influence the future of COVID?
While it may be discouraging to hear that COVID is here to stay, experts believe that the future of the virus can be impacted for the better if more people get vaccinated and boosted.
“We have a virus out there that’s still circulating, still killing hundreds of Americans every day,” Jha said in a press briefing Tuesday. But, he added: “We now have all of the capability to prevent, I believe, essentially all of those deaths. If people stay up to date on their vaccines, if people get treated if they have a breakthrough infection, we can make deaths from this virus vanishingly rare.”
Up to 100,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 9,000 deaths could be prevented if Americans get the updated booster at the same rate they typically get the annual flu shot this fall. About half of Americans are typically vaccinated against the flu each year, CDC director Rochelle Walensky says.
Vaccines are also a great way to boost your immunity.
Aside from getting vaccinated and boosted, the same safety precautions that we have been practicing since the start of the pandemic remain good options in high-risk situations. This includes wearing masks indoors when COVID rates are high, social distancing and regularly washing your hands.