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Virus Expert Just Issued This Important Pandemic Update

What should you do to stay safe?
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The BA.5 variant is now the predominant COVID strain in the U.S. It's more contagious than previous iterations of the virus, each of which was more transmissible than the last. At the same time, summer group gatherings beckon. What should you do to stay safe? On the most recent episode of his podcast, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm shared how he personally approaches socializing in the era of BA.5 and beyond. "I'm not going to change my life to be a cloistered individual with no contact," he said. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

COVID Won't "Simply Fade Away"

Nurse holding test tube with blood for 2019-nCoV.
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"If anybody needed a reminder that COVID isn't going to just simply fade away, look no further than what's happening internationally in just the past month, even in the past two weeks," says Osterholm. "As of Wednesday, the numbers posted on the WHO dashboard indicate that last week's case totals approached 5.3 million, up from four and one half million the week prior. In fact, with last week's total, we've now seen weekly cases jump by more than 2 million, compared to where we were just a month ago." He noted these totals may be vastly understated: Many people are using at-home tests, which are not reported in official results, and many countries are scaling back their testing programs.

2

We're Not Done With COVID

Two exhausted and desperate surgeons.
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Osterholm said the recent rise of COVID cases is "surely not a trend we want to see happening." He noted that several countries in Europe are seeing their hospitalization rates rise or nearly double because of BA.5. "Despite this notion that we're somehow done with COVID, we don't need to worry about these surges, you can see this combination of new variants and waning immunity leaves us and our health care systems plenty vulnerable," he said, noting that every nation worldwide is reporting a rise in COVID cases right now.

3

How This Virus Expert Stays Safe Right Now

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So what does this virus expert do in his personal life these days, considering the statistics? "I do not want to get COVID. I am not a fatalist who believes I will. I surely could. But I'm going to do what I can not to get it," said Osterholm. "But I'm not going to change my life to be a cloistered individual with no contact." 

He added: "If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is the beauty, it is the grace, and it is the gift of relationships. So I'm at a place now where these relationships are so valuable to me that I'm not going to jeopardize my life … I am going to find creative ways, in a sense, to be able to have these interfaces and relatively safely."

4

Be "Very Careful" In Public Places

Girl enjoying the outdoor music festival concert. -
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Osterholm said that he recently took a cross-country trip to see an outdoor concert. "The entire trip my partner and I wore our N95s any time we're in public places any time. And we did not eat in restaurants unless we could eat outdoors spaced away from people. We are very careful— even just getting gas now, using the restroom in our hotel lobby—wearing our N95 respirator. 

5

"What We're All Looking For Right Now"

Cheerful Smiling Adolescent Patient Showing Vaccinated Arm With Sticking Patch On Her Shoulder After Getting Shot And Thumb Up Gesture.
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"What we're all looking for right now is, how do we get together safely?" said Osterholm, saying he wrestles with that in his own family of adult children and grandchildren. "They've all been fully vaccinated using the definition of how many doses they can have at this time. And so I feel more confident being around them. But at the same time, I also recognize that they are a risk to me." 

Osterholm's solution: For now, he attends outdoor baseball games that allow for social distancing with his grandchildren. "The message I would give is that what I'm trying to do is not surrender to this virus and not give up," he said. "I'm waiting for better vaccines. I know it could be some time before they come, but at the same time, I'm going to continue to try not to get COVID. I've watched too many of my friends and colleagues have rough courses. I know too many people have died. I also am very aware of people who are suffering long COVID." 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.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael