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Virus Expert Warns "COVID is Not Done" With You

"Everybody is in the soup at the same time."
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

You may be done with COVID but COVID is not done with you. That's the message Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has. The virus expert has been one of the most correct, predicting the current "viral blizzard" and offering clear-headed assessments of what steps must be taken next to stay safe and keep life going. He appeared on Conversations on Healthcare with an update—and a warning. Read on for 6 life-saving pieces of advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Virus Expert Warned We Are All "In the Soup"

Healthcare workers operating on patient in ICU

"I thought this would be a viral blizzard," said Dr. Osterholm. "Everybody is in the soup at the same time. Doesn't matter if you're in the Northern or Southern hemispheres. It doesn't matter whether you're in a rural or an urban area of the country. And the only thing that's really different, like a true snow blizzard, is that it hits some areas first and then hit other areas later. And so un-burying from the blizzard is somewhat slower in some areas than others. And that's exactly what's happening right now in the United States. All 50 states and the District of Columbia in the soup. However, those states first impacted—particularly the Northeast—are now beginning to see the peak number of cases occur. And the numbers start to drop. The challenge we're gonna have is if we follow what has happened in South Africa and use that as somewhat of a benchmark, if you look at what's happened there, the numbers went up very quickly. We all are aware of that peak. And then it started to come down quickly and then people kind of forgot about it—well, it's over. Well, it's not right now. The tail of cases, South Africa is still from an incident standpoint, 25 times higher than it was before the hit. So what we're not quite certain of is once the big peak occurs and it starts to come down, what will that tail look like? And I think that's gonna be relevant to everyone in the United States."

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Healthcare Worked are Hanging "By the Skin of Their Teeth," are Infected Themselves

tired nurse with glasses

The surge has crushed our medical care system. "The challenge we have is that in fact, the whole country is in the soup at the same time," said Dr. Osterholm. "There aren't ways that we can take and move assets or resources from one region to another. And in fact, even when we take National Guard unit individuals from our communities and put 'em into the hospitals in long term care facilities, and not that they have great medical skills, but we're taking 'em out of other critical jobs in their community. And so we are seeing right now, no accesability to move people from one region of the country to another, for healthcare. So basically what was already a very tenuous situation in main obtaining adequate staffing. We're now hanging on by the skin of our teeth. We've seen in a number of areas, 20 to 25% absenteeism because of infected healthcare workers."

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Virus Expert Warns: Please Don't Get Infected Now

Sick woman laying in bed under wool blanket holding thermometer and tissue. Ill girl caught cold flu. Pills and tablets on table.

"These are incredible vaccines, they're remarkable, but they're not perfect. And one of the things that's happening is that people who have been fully vaccinated with their booster are still getting—it's a mild illness, they're not being hospitalized, but they can't work. And so that's been a challenge that we're seeing. And if you follow the news media, you can see a story after story, after story about regions, imploring people, please try not to get infected because right now we're being overrun in our ERs, in our hospital beds. In addition, we have to be mindful of what the impact is with supply chains. If you look at the number of big box pharmacies, just in this past weekend that were closed because they had no one to work in there, we've had pharmacies shut down completely."

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Virus Expert Pleads You Use Common Sense in Schools

Girl with face mask back at school after covid-19 quarantine and lockdown.

When it comes to COVID and schools, "Let's come back to what I call a common sense moment," says Dr. Osterholm. "You know, it's just reality. The challenge is, is that right now, this is not about not wanting kids in school. But when you have 35, 40% of your teaching staff, your support staff and your bus drivers out with COVID, how can you safely hold school? And this is just a reality. It's not a judgment of whether we should or shouldn't have school. Would we close schools if we were about to have a category five hurricane? You bet. Would anybody complain? No. If there was a regular blizzard, a real blizzard, 35 inches of snow and 40 mile an hour woods, would anybody complain about schools being closed? No. So what I've argued for over the last couple of weeks is just some common sense to say, look at this surge, it's gonna last only three or four more weeks likely. What we gotta do is get it through. And if you think you're gonna open your school safely with such a reduced staffing level, that's a mistake. And this shouldn't be a political point where under no condition will consider closing schools. And I've heard from many superintendents and teachers who feel like they're being punished for closing school. And the superintendent says, how do I do that with 35% under my staff out? And so I think this is one of those examples where ideologically people made decisions before they ever had the data to understand what that decision was all about."

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Virus Expert Says Here's Where We'll be Come Spring and Summer

Portrait of doctor with face mask and clipboard looking at camera in hospital.

"It's somewhere between little to nothing or it's really bad," said Dr. Osterholm truthfully. "And it's somewhere in between there. This is where humility comes in. We don't know, you know, all these statistical models that go out beyond four weeks, they're all based on pixie bust. I hope for the best and I have to plan for the worst. And if it's less than that, then we will be in much better shape. And so I think that, you know, people don't wanna hear this, but the idea of herd immunity went out the window for me over a year ago, and it's because we don't have sustained immunity with this virus. And it's not that unusual as well. We've seen it with other coronaviruses. You look at how many of the people right now are being reinfected with ho crime who have been vaccinated, have had boosters or previously were infected with a previous Delta variant. And so what it really points out is that we could have another variant in three or four months from now that could emerge, that could easily evade the immune protection of what we have right now in our population, be just as transmissible or not. Maybe we won't see that. … I'll just say that right now, we're not done with Omicron, we're surely not done with COVID yet. We may as a population get done with this pandemic, but the virus isn't done with us and knowing that that's why we have to learn how to live with it."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Female patient smiling behind the face mask and with her eyes, while getting flu shot

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek
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