In many ways, American life is returning to normal: Masks are no longer required in many locations, schools and universities are slated to reopen, and the days of social distancing are beginning to fade as concerts and sporting events bring spectators back.
In the U.S., we're now averaging 154 deaths a day from COVID-19 — a tiny fraction compared to the pandemic's peak — and some safety measures and restrictions remain in place. Life hasn't quite returned to the pre-pandemic status quo, but it feels much closer to it than it did six months ago.
But while we may long for officials to give an all-clear and declare the pandemic history, the health crisis is definitely not over, both in the U.S. and abroad.
The question of when the crisis will actually be over is a layered one — with different answers from a local, national and global perspective.
No Set-in-Stone Metrics for When it's Over
The U.S. declared COVID-19 a national emergency on March 13, 2020.
After many months in which the U.S. led the world in coronavirus cases, the virus is now under much better control here, due to the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
That federal emergency status is still in effect — it has been renewed several times, most recently in April — and can be extended by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for as long as deemed necessary.
It's not clear whether the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue any sort of all-clear. The CDC did not respond to NPR on the matter.
Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, who spent nearly 20 years at the CDC, hopes the agency will eventually give Americans that long-awaited green light.
When the time comes, Mokdad told NPR, "It's very important for our own CDC ... to say, 'We're out of danger right now. We should move on with our lives.' "
He says there aren't set-in-stone metrics to determine when a pandemic is over, because the situation is dynamic and changing so fast. And the virus itself is evolving, too.