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Virus Expert Just Predicted How This All Ends

This "is going to be a very challenging situation for us."
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

We get it. You're tired and just want this to be over. Many Americans: "They're done, even though the pandemic's not done with us. And I think that's one of the reasons why we're paying the high price we are in the United States. Right now, we see such major increases in numbers of cases because people have just gone back to living a life that they had long before COVID showed up. So we have a real concern," says Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. In fact, cover cases are topping 200,000 a day and may reach record numbers. How can you stay safe? Osterholm appeared on the Magellan podcast opposite host Hamish Douglas. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Virus Expert Warns of a "Global Blizzard"

Medical staff work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID-19 multiple patients inside a hospital.

"I'm very concerned," said Osterholm. "I think the data are clearly emerging that while this may not have exactly the same punch to it that Delta does, the overall numbers of cases—combined with the punch it does have—could surely equal that of Delta if not more. And the other challenge is that the transmission of this virus is so dynamic. Many of these cases are gonna occur all at once. So it's one thing to have a thousand cases over a day. It's another thing to have a thousand cases over an hour. And I think that this is what we're really concerned about is that we're gonna see over the next three to seven weeks around the world, a global blizzard with Omicron, that is going to be a very challenging situation for us."


Virus Expert is Very Concerned About the Speed of the Spread

Patient in ambulance.

"I assume at this point that this virus is in every country right now," said Dr. Osterholm. He says it's likely in some places it hasn't even been discovered yet. "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And I think that this is such a highly transmissible virus that's moved around the world where it has been found. It also has become increasingly associated with rapid growth. Doesn't matter which continent you're on. And it doesn't matter what event, meaning that we see college campuses. We see parties, we see all kinds of different locations where we're seeing very rapid transmission in our surveys that we're doing right now in the United States, much is being done in Europe where we're looking for the virus in terms of the genetic sequence. So we can look and see which variant it is. It is doubling about every one and half to two and a half days, which is a remarkable number. That's not much when you're doubling eight to 16 to 32, but when you start doubling a thousand to 2000 to four, and those are real numbers. And so that's where we're at right now. And I think it's just a matter of time if we're gonna see that around the world."


Virus Expert Said to Expect Many Infections—Including Breakthroughs

Two doctors wearing personal personal protective equipment

Are we reliving the same movie over and over? "This is a different movie," said Osterholm of the situation now. "And actually I might even argue it's a different type of venue, meaning that it's different than watching it on your home screen versus a big screen in some public location. When you look at the mechanisms by which we are concerned about for variants and what they do, there really are three buckets of activity that are important to us. One, is it more transmissible? Two: Does it cause more severe illness and three, can it evade immune protection in defense? And what we're seeing right now is that first of all, this is highly transmissible, much more so than Delta and Delta was the king of the virus hill. We don't have evidence that is causing more serious illness—it's causing serious illness, but not in necessarily in a higher proportion. But what we are seeing is that third bucket, the immune invasions, meaning that the detection from vaccines or previous infection are not holding up against it."

"Now, there still is a real benefit to being vaccinated," he added. "And I don't want anyone to walk away thinking, ah, we don't need to vaccinate anymore because we have evidence that there's less severe illness, less hospitalizations, less death among those who are fully vaccinated and particularly those who have the booster for mRNA vaccines. So at this point, that's the challenge we have is that being fully vaccinated— even with a booster doesn't mean you're not gonna get infected. Many of the outbreaks we've had the large proportion of people were in the outbreaks were vaccinated. People who still got sick."


Virus Expert Said Hospitals and Doctors Being Overwhelmed are a "Big Concern" for Us All


A "big concern for us right now is, in the United States, in any parts of the country right now, our healthcare systems are hanging on by a thread," said Dr. Osterholm. "We have had major challenges with Delta and our case numbers have gone up precipitously with Delta. Now, one of the challenges we're gonna have is what will happen between the Delta versus Omicron battle—who will win, will there be victors, will one dominate over the other, right now, it looks like Omicron is gonna take over. And if that does, then we have a situation where at least for three to four weeks, the Delta cases are still already in the oven, you might say, they're coming from the number of people who are infected this moment to those who then eventually get sick enough to get hospitalized, who then get serious enough us to die. And so for a period of time, Delta's gonna continue to still be the driving force of severe illness, but then overlaid on that will be Omicron, which will be coming." 


Virus Expert Said This is the Endgame for the Next Few Months

Scientist working in the laboratory

Osterholm has long said that "I thought that some of the darkest days of the pandemic were still yet ahead of us. And that was not a popular thing to be saying last April in the United States, at least when case numbers were dropping precipitously and vaccines were flowing widely, but I saw what the variants could do. I saw Alpha emerge in November in the UK. I saw the issues with Beta, Gamma in South America and in Africa where they could evade human protection. And I thought to myself, wow, I mean, this is one big evolutionary effort by this virus. And there are so many people left in the world to get infected. They're gonna be more variants and they're likely gonna be more complicated. And, you know, I made the comment that one point that they're gonna start throwing 210 all hour curve balls at us than they have."

"And so I don't think the variants are done yet," said Dr. Osterholm. "I think the Omicron is the latest version of one, and this is why we really have to work hard on what we call a pan-Corona vaccine. One that could basically cover any number of different eventualities that might emerge with all these mutations. So I'd love to give you a crystal ball view of what's gonna happen…I'm gonna say that probably in a few months, this will have infected most people around the world and will have a lot of protection, at least in the short term, from any serious illness and maybe in many cases, even mild illness, but then over time, like influenza, it probably would come back as waning immunity would set in. I think with the vaccines, we are already seeing the problem with waning immunity."

"These are really, really remarkable tools, but they're not perfect. And one of the things we're realizing is they don't necessarily produce great long-term protection even after the third, which surely does boost use substantially back to those early days of those first two doses. We have evidence now that even the third dose begins to wane after three or four months. So I don't see a world ahead of us that's gonna vaccinate the entire world's population every six months. So somehow we're gonna have to figure out better vaccines, or we're gonna have to just accept the fact that we're gonna see a certain proportion of our society every year being infected by COVID virus and that some of them could be a real challenge."


Virus Expert Says Here's How to Stay Safe

Nurse with face mask sitting at home with senior woman and injecting covid 19 vaccine.

"Number of one, most importantly, is you can't run out the clock on this one. This virus will find you if you're not vaccinated or protected from natural infection. And when I say protected, I'm not even assuming that you will prevent from getting infected, but you surely can do a great deal to reduce the severity of illness. So if you can't run out the clock, please get vaccinated. You know, you're not only protecting yourself, but you're protecting your loved ones, your colleagues, your friends, and you're not taking a hospital bed that could be used for someone else who desperately needs it more than even you do. And so, to me, that's the number one message is get vaccinated. Number two, I think is just understand that this next six, seven weeks are gonna be very eventful, but don't let that make you feel as if this is what it's gonna be forever. It's not. And I hope that we can get through this with as least pain as possible on a global basis." 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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