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"We're in a New Pandemic," Virus Expert Warns

A more infectious variant has disrupted the fight against COVID, a noted epidemiologist says.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital

The U.S. is in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by the B.1.1.7 variant, and it could be a "game changer," said epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy on Sunday. "I believe that in some ways we're almost in a new pandemic," said Osterholm in an interview on Fox News Sunday. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.

"A Different Picture"

"This is a virus that is now 50 to 100 percent more transmissible or infectious than the previous viruses. This is a virus that causes 50 to 60 percent more severe illnesses, and so what at one time wasn't as much of a problem—for example, in cases in young adult—are now becoming very serious cases. This is really a fourth wave, you might call it, with somewhat of a different picture than we've seen in the past waves of the pandemic," warned Osterholm.

"The only good news about this," he noted, "is that the current vaccine are effective against this particular variant."

The rise in the new variant is at odds with reopenings and relaxed restrictions happening throughout the country. As for how to respond, Osterholm said closures and lockdowns may be necessary. "There isn't a country in the world right now that has seen a big increase in this B.1.1.7 that is not locking down," he said. "We're the exception. The bottom-line message from all of these countries is we could not control this virus until we did lock down."

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"This Virus Is a Game Changer"

"I understand the absolute resistance in this country to even to consider that," Osterholm added. "It was kind of like trying to drink barbed wire. But the bottom-line message is the virus is going to do what it's going to do, and we're going to have to respond somehow—whether we accept that if we have large outbreaks in our communities, we're willing to pull back on some of the restrictions that we've loosened up on. Are we going to reconsider schools and school transmission as a new factor here that we didn't have before? 

"Nobody was wrong in trying to get schools reopened. Now we have new data that says this virus is a game-changer. So I think we are all going to be looking carefully at what to do."

RELATED: Doctors Say "DO NOT" Do This After Your COVID Vaccine.

How to Survive This Pandemic

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.