SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Hundreds of South Dakotans are still getting sick from COVID-19 and hundreds are still being hospitalized, but Dr. Jeremy Cauwels is starting to see a shift.
New COVID-19 cases in South Dakota have hit a plateau since falling from a Delta variant surge in August and September. While all but two counties — Hand and Jerauld — are currently experiencing “high” or “substantial” community spread of COVID-19, Cauwels sees the virus trying to become more endemic rather than pandemic.
“At some point, we’ll get to a spot where the circulating amount of COVID will hit a steady state,” Cauwels told KELOLAND News. “We’ll always see a little of COVID in our hospital. It may change with seasons, it may change with travel or it may change with something else. I think we’ll always see a little bit of COVID around and we’re going to have to get used to it.”
The Chief Physician at Sanford Health said one of the biggest differences between pandemic and endemic is how pandemics come in waves. He added that’s usually with a new virus and one the population hasn’t seen and can’t protect itself from.
“The nice thing about this virus is we have some way to battle against the virus,” Cauwels said. “In this case, we have a vaccine. We’re developing other medications to help treat the virus as well.”
Comparing COVID-19 to Chicken Pox and the common cold, Cauwels said there’s many diseases that never disappear.
“It’s endemic to the way we live. This is COVID’s maneuver, if you will, to do the same thing,” Cauwels said. “It’s going to become part of the baseline of how we get through our days.”
Because COVID-19 cases continue to go up and down like the pandemic version, Cauwels wondered when the endemic version of COVID-19 will result in 180 people hospitalized throughout Sanford Health like it is currently or if it’ll be more like 30 people.
“I think it’s going to be much closer to that smaller number than that higher number,” Cauwels said. “But that’s what we’re trying to sort out.”
New and more medications are helping push COVID-19 out of the pandemic state. Cauwels pointed to two oral drugs that treat COVID-19 and can “substantially” reduce hospitalization. He also cited the success of monoclonal antibody transfusions as positives.
The biggest concern Cauwels has about the future of COVID-19 revolves around vaccine hesitancy. He said there’s nearly two years of data on the vaccine proving it to be “extraordinarily safe.”
As the pandemic enters its 22nd month, Cauwels believes new case counts will continue to decline.
“I expect December’s numbers to be less than today’s numbers,” Cauwels said. “I expect they’ll continue to go down. I expect January’s numbers to be lower than today’s numbers as well.”