Here’s the UW Smart Restart tracker, showing the number of positive COVID tests among students and faculty since August:

And here’s the Dane County dashboard, showing positive tests per week over the whole course of the pandemic:

and deaths per month:

The future of COVID is going to be one where just about everyone has acquired some immunity to the virus, whether by vaccination or infection. In Madison, that future’s already here. 83% of everyone over 18 and 94% of everyone over 65 in Dane County has received two doses of COVID vaccine. We have vaccinated away most of the risk of COVID death here, and you can see it very clearly in the numbers.

On the other hand, people are still getting COVID. Cases aren’t blowing up but they’re also not going away. Once the more contagious delta variant set in, people started catching it, even among our 95%-vaxxed student body, and even in a city where — I know this, I just went to Fargo, remember? — people are substantially more likely than most places to be suppressing COVID transmission.

You hear a lot about removing COVID restrictions triggered on a reduction to levels of new cases below what the CDC classifies as “substantial,” which is 50 cases per 100K people over a 7-day period. Is that actually going to happen? I think it’s fair to ask: even once almost everyone has some immunity build-up, whether through vaccination or repeated infection or vaccination and repeated infection, are we going to get to case rates below “substantial?” We certainly haven’t in Dane County. There are only a few places in the US where cases are that low right now, and most of them are in places that just suffered a severe wave of COVID cases and deaths.

So one possibility is this: cases stay substantial forever, and because the people who want to be vaccinated get vaccinated, and because we are at last getting treatments that seem to be really effective for really sick patients, the toll of COVID gets much lower.

I don’t want to say that’s obviously true. I have learned my lesson about predicting this stuff. Another possible story is that COVID waves are geographically correlated (which is clearly true) and that cases in Dane County have stayed steady because of the large numbers of people nearby taking no vaccine or no precautions. On that account, the minor wave Wisconsin is experiencing now will die away just as the much bigger wave in the South did, and case rates could be low for good once that happens.

Maybe! But I think we have to be open to the possibility that this is as over as it gets.