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Virus Expert Just Issued This Dire Warning

"At this point, our healthcare system in this country is hanging on by the skin of its teeth."
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

COVID is filling up hospitals across the country. "Many of my colleagues have been on the TV talk shows in the media saying the worst is over," Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on C-SPAN's Washington Journal yesterday. "The fact of the matter is that a lot of people have thought this. And I think this is just a reality check. No, it's not." It's not over, he said, and not only that, but worse variants may come. "We may have to be prepared for this again," he said. So what can you expect in the next few weeks? Read on for 5 pieces of essential advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Virus Expert Says Here's What to Expect the Next Few Weeks

Emergency medic and doctor moving patient to emergency room in hospital

Right now, "we have a viral blizzard it's occurring virtually in every state," said Dr. Osterholm, "and some of them are delayed by a week or two versus others, where it was first seen, for example, in the Northeast. But in general, we're gonna see this very, very high number of cases, at least I think for the next three to four weeks. And then it will start to see the numbers drop. Fortunately we may have leveled off with case numbers in the Northeast, which is a good thing, but I remind people, it's kind of like when you fly in an airplane and they announce that we're in beginning our descent into such and such airport, 30 minutes before you land, you're still up high for a long time before you act actually land, even though you're coming down, that's what's gonna happen with these cases. So areas like the Northeast are still going to be in a really a bad way for at least the next three or four weeks. And then I think after that, it's unclear how that bottom will occur in terms of the number of cases. If we look what's happening in South Africa right now, they're still running about 25 times the number of cases they had before Omicron hit. So while the big peak has come down, the baseline is still much higher. Will that occur in the United States? I think that's a real possibility."

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Virus Expert Said Our Healthcare System "is Hanging On By the Skin of its Teeth"

Tired exhausted female scrub nurse

"Right now, we just have to get through the next three to four weeks," said Dr. Osterholm. "At this point, our healthcare system in this country is hanging on by the skin of its teeth. We have a major shortage of adequate number of healthcare workers who are trained to be able to provide this care. Part of that is the fact that we have just so challenged healthcare over the past two years, that we've lost a number of people who have just quit after day in and day out of battlefield-like conditions. We're seeing absentee rates of 20 to 30% in a number of areas in the country, in healthcare here, just because of the fact that they too have become infected. Grant you, they're vaccinated fully vaccinated with a booster. They're not getting seriously ill and dying, but healthcare workers are nonetheless infected and therefore off the job for a period of time. But we can take and translate that to any number of things in our society. Yesterday, right here in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, as well as around the country, we had a number of pharmacies that had to be closed because they didn't have enough workers. We can't get the garbage picked up. We're having problems is getting drugs delivered to hospitals. I can go down the laundry list of issues. And so I just keep coming back to the fact it's like schools, nobody wants to close schools right now. Nobody wants kids not to be in school. They should be. But when you have 30 to 35% of your teachers out sick, how can you run a school let alone safely? And so I think just getting people to focus—just like a real snow blizzard. This viral blizzard will be over in three to four weeks and most parts of the country. And we just have to get through during that time."

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Virus Expert Said What the "New Normal" Might Look Like

Medical staff work in the intensive care ward for COVID-19 patients

What does the new normal of COVID look like? "We know that we're gonna continue to see this virus in our communities forever," he said. "It's not going to go away. It's not gonna be eradicated. And the question is, what is it gonna look like? You know, a year ago, I began to realize just how important these variants were that they in fact, could either be much more transmisible than any we'd seen before, or they could evade the immune protection of vaccines that we had, as well as the immunity one gets from having previously been infected. …And so when Delta came along and Omicron came along, that wasn't surprising. This is something we should expect, and we have to expect that that could happen in the future, that we could have a new variant that could be much more infectious that could escape the immune protection. So that's one side of the house that we have to deal with. On the other hand, we also have the situation where maybe this is in fact, the last of the bad variants to come out and how do we incorporate our life? And so we have to really plan for both eventualities."

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Virus Expert Said Here's What We Might See in the Future

Doctor holding syringe in hospital.

"I think is we're gonna see that vaccines can even be more powerful. I think you're gonna see the vaccines 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 in the days to years ahead. I think the drug therapies can be very critical. Remember if we were doing this show back in the early 1980s, having a diagnosis of HIV was a death sentence—today it's a manageable chronic disease for many, many people. Why? Because of the drugs. And so one of the things we are really needing right now is a comprehensive international program for getting these drugs to people as quickly as possible once they become infected. And so I think there are a lot of opportunities we have to really learn how to live with this virus in a way that doesn't make it cause these big surges and then subsequent rushes on our healthcare system, which in many instances today are watching healthcare systems, not bend, but break. That's what the challenge will be for the future."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

A mid adult woman protects herself by placing an N95 face mask over her nose and mouth.

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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