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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW)– Ohio health officials outlined what it would take to have COVID-19 transition from a true pandemic to endemic levels during a news conference on Friday.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said COVID-19 is almost certainly here to stay. While numbers are declining, the state is still far away from the low case rates we saw in late spring through early fall, according to Vanderhoff. Ohio’s cases per capita is 10 times what is considered high levels of transmission.

OhioHealth Director of Infectious Diseases Dr. Joe Gastaldo said a pandemic is the spread of an infection through a population that has no immunity. In the case of this novel coronavirus, it’s on a global scale. Gastaldo said endemic means an infection persists in the population indefinitely.

“Instead of these big peaks, there is likely to always be a baseline level of some type of infection or activity going on. And it may go up or down based on the seasons, for example like upper respiratory viruses like influenza,” Gastaldo said.

It’s all about immunity. The safest way to get immunity and exposure to COVID-19 is through a vaccine, Gastaldo said.

“Yes, it is true if somebody does get COVID, most people are left with varying shades or degrees of immunity,” Gastaldo said. “Somebody’s immunity they get from natural infection can be variable from person to person. For example, somebody who is younger is likely to have a better degree of immunity, compared to somebody who is older.”

“What we do know is the immunity you get from vaccines is not only better than natural immunity, it is more observable and something that can be studied in the real world. And we also know too, that somebody who has had COVID, it is safe to vaccinate them and what they’re left with is what we really call hybrid immunity, which is a better type of immunity.”

Gastaldo and Vanderhoff discussed the fast-spreading omicron variant’s impact on achieving immunity.

“As time goes on, as more people get vaccinated, as more people get exposed to this virus, in the aftermath of omicron especially, we are left with more people with degrees of immunity,” Gastaldo said.

“If you are vaccinated, if you get a booster and you get a post-vaccination infectious, and you’re at home with a cold or mild symptoms, that’s the vaccine working.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as COVID becomes more endemic with primary exposure occurring during children, the virus may become as harmful as the common cold. In January, the CDC said ongoing need for mass vaccination will depend on age of infection and fatalities. There is still a lot to learn about COVID-19 and the duration of immune memory.