A Soldier receives a COVID-19 test May 16, 2021, over a year after the pandemic first began in the United States. Now closing in on two years since the start, new updates are still regularly being made.
A Soldier receives a COVID-19 test May 16, 2021, over a year after the pandemic first began in the United States. Now closing in on two years since the start, new updates are still regularly being made. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jaccob Hearn) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. – As the nation closes in on the COVID-19 pandemic’s two-year mark in a couple of months, the latest reports may be more encouraging than many realize.

The recent spike in positive cases, according to Fort Knox Chief of Preventive Medicine Dr. James Stephens, could be a sign of COVID transitioning away from pandemic status.

“There’s a lot of people saying [COVID] isn’t endemic, which means it isn’t prevalent enough in the population. It is,” said Stephens. “Most of us in the medical field believe it’s absolutely endemic.”

Defining COVID as endemic would mean it has enough occurrences to be found regularly among society, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Stephens said with this in mind, the way we head back toward a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy is to start by understanding that coronavirus isn’t going away.

“We’re going to have other variants, just expect that,” said Stephens. “Flu has 192 different variations and we get flu shots for four of them. That’s it.”

Stephens said vaccinations and boosters are the key, along with the understanding they will need to be continuously updated.

“From the very beginning we’ve all tried to kind of prime people to expect this to be an annual shot like the flu shot,” said Stephens. “The flu shot only lasts for six months in your system and then you have to get it again the next season. That’s how we think COVID is going to work.”

Stephens also noted that while our immune systems play an important role in ending COVID as a pandemic, vaccines are still an important tool.

“If natural immunity was so perfect, we wouldn’t get another cold in our lives,” said Stephens. “That’s all this is. It’s a cold virus – it’s just one of the major ones. Natural immunity works well, just not well enough. We need to give ourselves a little bit of help to keep the severity down.

“The vaccines and the booster were never designed to keep you from getting the disease – they’re to keep you from dying from the disease.”

Currently, the Omicron variant is sweeping the nation as the most prevalent form of COVID. Stephens said where there are cons with it, there are also pros.

“It’s almost two times more infective than Delta – so the spread is just horrendous,” said Stephens. “The good thing is the Omicron variant is not as severe as the Delta or the others. It’s not as dangerous.”

As the most recent COVID symptoms begin to resemble those of the flu or common cold, Stephens has one recommendation for those who are unsure if they have it, as long as they aren’t seriously ill:

“Just stay home.”

In terms of transmissibility, Stephens advised those presenting with possible Omicron symptoms to treat it like the flu.

“With the flu you’re infective for a day or so before you start having symptoms, and infective for about five to seven days after you’ve stopped having them,” said Stephens. “It’s almost exactly the same with Omicron.”

Stephens said the best thing is to recognize that professionals have people’s best interests at heart and are trying to keep everyone as informed as possible amid constantly updated data.

“The best line I’ve heard is, ‘We didn’t lie, the truth changed,’” said Stephens. “This is part of our life now. We will become more lax in what we are doing, but it’s going to take some time. Patience is the big thing, but we understand the frustration.”

Stephens said his best advice is to work toward viewing COVID as being endemic rather than a pandemic. With that in mind, he recommends getting vaccinated, getting boosters, and utilizing the simple techniques many were taught as children.

“Wash your hands, cover your cough or sneeze, and stay home when you’re sick,” said Stephens. “Practice distancing and good hygiene – all the basics we’ve been doing since kindergarten.”

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Editor’s note: For more information on receiving a COVID vaccine on post or to make an appointment, call 502-626-SHOT (7468).