Bill Gates says 'COVID can be treated more like seasonal flu' after Omicron surge peaks

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  • Billionaire philantrophist Bill Gates sees a potential end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • With cases spiking due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the pandemic may be transitioning to an endemic.

  • After Omicron peaks, "COVID can be treated more like seasonal flu," Gates said this week.

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and case numbers break previous record highs, billionaire Microsoft cofounder-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates sees a potential end in the near future.

"Once Omicron goes through a country, then the rest of the year should see far fewer cases," Gates told University of Edinburgh chair of global public health Devi Sridhar during a Twitter Q&A this week. "So COVID can be treated more like seasonal flu."

That would effectively turn the pandemic — which is defined as a disease that's spread throughout a country, continent, or whole planet — into an endemic, like the annual flu. That could mean annual shots, also like how we prepare for flu season, he said.

Gates' statement echoed that of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, who said this week that the Omicron variant "will find just about everybody."

Between the natural immunity offered from having caught and survived COVID-19, the much higher vaccination rates (62.6% of the US population, according to the latest CDC data), and the increasing availability of medicines to treat the most severe COVID cases, the US may be on the verge of the transition from pandemic to endemic.

"We may be on the threshold of that right now," Fauci said. "It's entirely possible."

The Omicron spike of COVID cases is expected to peak by the end of January, experts say, and one key indicator is already showing signs that the peak has passed: COVID levels in poop are on the decline.

a graph of covid-19 levels in wastewater from boston, showing a big spike for omicron, then decrease
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

Data from Biobot Analytics, which measures COVID levels in more than 100 waste-treatment plants around the US, shows that "the level of the virus in the wastewater is at a record high," Biobot CEO and cofounder Mariana Matus told Insider. "It's the highest it's been throughout the pandemic, which indicates it's the most disease transmission that we have seen in the pandemic so far."

That said, the data also shows that levels are already on the decline — which could indicate that the Omicron spike is also on the decline.

But that doesn't mean we're in the clear just yet: Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID lag infection time by several weeks. "The next two weeks we should be very, very careful," Matus said.

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