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Omicron Expert Just Busted This Immunity Myth

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

COVID hospitalizations are rising so fast, "at this point, our healthcare system in this country is hanging on by the skin of its teeth." Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said yesterday on C-SPAN's Washington Journal yesterday. The pandemic is not over, he warned, and not only that, but worse variants may come. "We may have to be prepared for this again," he said. So what will happen next, how can you stay safe—and what makes you immune? 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.

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Virus Expert Said Don't Count on Your Healthy Lifestyle or a Previous Infection to Protect You From COVID

African American man in antiviral mask gesturing thumb up during coronavirus vaccination, approving of covid-19 immunization
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A caller said he was a healthy guy who ate right and exercised often and asked if that and his COVID infection from last year would keep him safe. Osterholm congratulated him on his smart choices but said "let me be really clear. The immunity that you get from a previous infection wears off over time. We have seen many, many people who have gotten reinfected with second,  episodes and in some cases much more severe than their first one. So at this point I would urge you, please get vaccinated. You may have been lucky to this point of not getting reinfected, and your lifestyle will not change that. This virus doesn't care if you're healthy or not when it infects you. What it will mean is, if you're healthier, you have a better chance of not having a serious illness than if you're not, but I would urge you right now—and anyone else out there who has not been vaccinated, even if they've had previous COVID, you need to get vaccinated." 

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Virus Expert Said: Prepare for More Dangerous Variants

Scientists and microbiologists with PPE suit and face mask hold test tube and microscope in lab
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When it comes to more mutations, "we don't know what the future brings. This virus is throwing 210 mile an hour curve balls at us from the very beginning," said Dr. Osterholm. "And we don't know if the next variant will be a mild or a good news situation, but just as easily could be as the opposite. And I think we've had to learn our lessons time and time again, you know, we can hope for a mild variant but hope's not a strategy. We have to understand that we can have more severe variants and we have to be prepared for that. Otherwise we will get caught flatfooted again as a world, not just as a country, but as a world."

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Virus Expert Said COVID is Causing People to Postpone Treatment of Other Medical Issues, and This Must Change

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"To date, we've not really had a definition of what is success with COVID. I think many believed at least last spring and early summer that with the rollout of the vaccines, the fact we had that big January peak last year, that then the case number started to drop precipitously and late January, early February. And I think people thought it was done. It was gonna go away. There were a number of talking heads on the TV screens that were telling you that we now realize that's not the case, that it's not gonna go away. And so I think that one of the things we have to look at then is, well, then what is the measure we use to discern whether we're successful or not? When frankly it was by default, are healthcare systems breaking? Are we compromising care, which we surely have in terms of heart attack, strokes, automobile accidents, even those who have chronic conditions or acute conditions like cancer have had to postpone important surgeries, follow up diagnostic testing, all because of COVID." Osterholm proposes "we have to understand, we have to adapt a system and support a system that in fact would accommodate these potential surges. And on top of that, what happens when you have an overlap of a bad flu year, where 50 to 70,000 people can die from influenza in a bad winter season, and COVID at the same time. So what we looked at is what is the capacity that we need to have to respond and plan accordingly? I think people don't realize that we do that in other areas of our lives right now." 

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Virus Expert Said This is Why Hospitals are Filling Up

Emergency medic and doctor moving patient to emergency room in hospital
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"When we try to describe this disease as milder, it really, I think is a misnomer," said Dr. Osterholm. "It's not really adequately describing what's happened. What it means is that if—let's just take the previous variant we dealt with: Delta. And let me just say, if you have a thousand cases of Delta, you might have a hundred that were severely ill requiring hospitalization. And in many cases at some risk of death. Well along comes Omicron. You have a thousand cases again, but this time only 10 are likely to have serious illness and die. You say, boy, that's a real advantage. Well, the problem is is that the virus is infected more than tenfold, more than you saw with Delta. So the absolute number of people coming to our healthcare system with severe disease actually is higher than what we saw before. Even with the other variants. That's why we're seeing an unprecedented number of hospitalizations. We're seeing death climb dramatically in a number of areas of the country….This is actually creating more serious illnesses and we'll create more deaths than we've actually seen during the previous variants that have come along."

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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.
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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
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