PORTSMOUTH, Va (WAVY) – Nearly three years after declaring the pandemic, the World Health Organization said Monday that COVID remains a health emergency, but the pandemic is at a transition point.

We may not wear masks or talk about it as much COVID, but it is still out there.

“I think COVID is going to be with us for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, a public health physician specialist in the Office of Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health Epidemiologist. “I don’t think COVID is going away.”

The World Health Organization is now hopeful however, that the world will transition to a new phase this year where hospitalizations and deaths are reduced to the lowest possible levels.

Currently Virginia is averaging about 1,500 new cases a day about 11 deaths a day.

“These numbers obviously pale in comparison to what happened with Omicron,” Rossheim told WAVY.

This time last year, Virginia was averaging about 39 deaths a day.

“We are in a much better place now,” Rossheim said. “In Virginia you’ve got basically three-quarters-plus has had some kind of immunization.”

WHO estimates at least 90% of the world’s population has some level of immunity due to vaccine or infection.

Testing and early treatment are also key to lowering the death rate according to Rossheim.

“That’s why we have the federal government offering free COVID tests again,” Rossheim said, “and I would definitely encourage people to take advantage of that.”

Moving ahead with COVID, he said, is about balance.

“You know people can’t live in a constant state of sort of pandemic fear,” Rossheim said. “Unfortunately, it’s not like we can just put it in a little case and put it away and say, ‘Ok we’re good.'”

We must keep our eye on the ball, Rossheim said, tracking the virus as it mutates and putting up our best defenses in drug labs and in our communities with vaccines, hand washing and covering coughs.

Public health still encourages vaccination as the number one way to protect yourself from COVID.

Rossheim said while people have been slower to get the bivalent vaccine, it is recommended, especially for those in the three groups most at risk for complications they are: people over age 50, those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease and those with a compromised immune system.