Five months after President Joe Biden said, “the pandemic is over” on an episode of “60 Minutes,” the Long Beach City Council is set to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would end the local state of emergency for coronavirus.

So the question is worth asking: Is the pandemic over?

Biden, for his part, acknowledged in that same September interview, “we still have a problem with COVID.”

Locally, in the five months since his remarks, Long Beach health officials have announced 52 coronavirus-related deaths—more than the previous seven flu seasons combined. From the 2015-16 season through 2021-22, Long Beach reported 46 flu deaths, data shows.

“It’s not over even though the public health emergency is going to expire,” Dr. Anissa Davis, the city’s health officer, said in an interview last week. Davis noted that there is infrastructure—including treatments, testing and vaccinations—in place now that makes the emergency declaration less crucial.

“COVID is definitely with us—it will be indefinitely,” she said.

Early on in the pandemic, the scientific community said COVID-19 was here to stay. The medical community has long said the disease would become less serious until it operates more like the annual flu—still serious, but not nearly at the scale the world has experienced over the last three years.

Davis noted that in Long Beach, like the rest of the country, the coronavirus appears to have two peak seasons—summer and winter—while the flu is mostly a winter virus. That said, Davis noted that even during the “off” seasons, COVID-19 flattens at a steady level that still includes regular amounts of hospitalizations and deaths.

“It never goes down to zero,” she said.

Since it has existed for less than four years, Davis said there is still a lot to learn about COVID-19 and what it will look like in the long term. The previous two winters of COVID were alarming—the first was the deadliest months of the pandemic, while the second saw the greatest number of cases. This winter, however, the peak is not nearly as drastic on either metric, according to city data.

Davis said immunity—be it from infection or vaccination—is definitely helping to quell surges. Sub-variants also are becoming less frequent and more mild, compared to the delta and omicron variants that led the previous surges.

Despite the positive outlook, the city continues to report more coronavirus deaths per month than it does flu deaths for whole seasons. Last month, health officials reported 19 coronavirus-related deaths, the most of any month since March 2021.

In nine of the last 12 months, the city has reported 10 or more coronavirus-related deaths.

Davis noted that death reporting often lags up to three months.

The 2022-23 flu season, meanwhile, is shaping up to be one of the deadliest since at least 2010, according to Health Department data. Through the week of Feb. 4, health officials have reported 10 flu-related deaths, with several months remaining for this season.

Other recent deadly flu seasons include 2017-18 when 16 people died, 2019-20 when 11 people died and 2018-19 when 10 people died. Every other season saw seven or fewer deaths, data shows.

While she agrees that eventually COVID-19 will be more similar to the flu, Davis said it’s impossible to know how long that will take.

“I don’t think we’re quite there yet where we can make that prediction,” Davis said. “I think we’ll just have to wait and see. That’s what COVID has been—you can’t predict it. Could some new crazy variant come out? Another couple weeks could change everything.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.