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WATCH: State medical officer: COVID could become endemic in 2022

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Department of Health Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard during a media briefing on Feb. 3, 2022. (PHOTO: Screenshot)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — COVID-19 could become endemic by the end of the year, Wisconsin’s top medical officer said Thursday.

Department of Health Services Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard still warned that case counts could periodically spike but the disease likely will reach a stage in 2022 where case numbers remain fairly constant.

Westergaard’s remarks come as a surge in Wisconsin case numbers driven by the omicron variant continues to subside. Wisconsin’s seven-day case average stood at 4,679 as of Thursday, down from 18,857 on Jan. 19. According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, as of Wednesday 1,442 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, down 389 patients from a week ago.

Some medical experts maintain that COVID-19 will never become endemic because the disease will be driven by new variants that can evade vaccinations and infect swaths of unvaccinated people. The medical community is closely watching a new descendant of the omicron variant that experts say is highly transmissible.

Westergaard didn’t elaborate on his prediction during a news conference but conceded that COVID-19 is difficult to predict. The state health department had recorded fewer than five cases of the version of omicron that scientists call BA.2 as of Thursday. Westergaard said he expects those numbers to increase. BA.2 appears to be more infectious but doesn’t appear to cause any more severe disease than omicron.

Gov. Tony Evers’ office announced Thursday that 70 Wisconsin National Guard members have completed a two-week certified nursing assistant course and have deployed to alleviate staffing shortages at health care facilities around the state, including facilities in Mineral Point, Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, New London, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Cornell, Woodville, Sturgeon Bay, Suring, Antigo, Weyauwega, Kaukauna, Kenosha, Waunakee, Glendale and Racine.

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