UW researchers predict end to the pandemic

SEATTLE — Thursday marked two years since the pandemic began, but a leading group of researchers in Washington say we are close to the end of the pandemic as well as a shift in how we deal with the virus.

The prediction came during a briefing from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Friday.

“The era of major restrictions is coming to an end in that COVID will be around for the long term, but it will be a disease that like a bad flu, we’ll need to manage,” said IHME director Dr. Chris Murray.

The reign of COVID-19 began in Washington and crystallized at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, where dozens of people died in a matter of weeks.

Those events forced Washington residents into changing personal behavior as well as restrictions, closures, and lockdowns, all of which persisted in some fashion for two years.

Murray said there is now a light at the end of the tunnel.

We expect after the omicron wave, a period of low transmission of COVID,” said Murray.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the IHME has been a go-to source for predicting how the virus will behave. Murray said omicron will infect 50% to 60% of the world’s population.

The variant spread so fast, hospitals were overwhelmed and some who were fully vaccinated were infected. It also produced the highest levels of global immunity seen since the pandemic began.

“It’s ripping through the population and many of the infections are asymptomatic, that we think we get to functional herd immunity,” said Murray.

The omicron variant prompted a return to medical masks for many, and it will be the dominant strain going forward, but it’s proven to be less lethal, and its wave could die down in weeks, the IHME said.

“We will go into this period where the immunological exposure to COVID is so much higher, both from vaccination and infection, that we won’t see restrictions return, so I think we will go back to normal in the sense that we won’t have major restrictions on behavior,” said Murray.

In the end, Murray believes COVID-19 will become endemic — so widespread it’s just something we deal with — but it will be dealt with on individual terms without government restrictions.

“From an individual standpoint, personally, I’m going to be cautious until the wave is through, which is just a few weeks away. Once the wave is through, I think everybody will have to make their own choice,” said Murray.