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Virus Expert Just Warned "This Does Not Bode Well"

Dr. Michael Osterholm pointed out a worrisome development in the COVID pandemic.

Over the past few weeks, many countries have signaled they're done with the Omicron variant. Every U.S. state except one has rolled back mask mandates. Countries like the UK and Iceland have dropped all COVID-related restrictions altogether. Some virus experts, like epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, worry that the wholesale lifting of precautions is premature and On the latest episode of his podcast, Osterholm said that may "end up costing us in the long run" and that one development in particular "does not bode well" if the pandemic takes a now-familiar turn. 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.


What Might "End Up Costing Us"

Doctors and senior covid-19 infected patient in bed in hospital

First, Osterholm made it clear that he is eager for the pandemic to end. "Make no mistake about it, I'm just as tired of this pandemic as everybody else," he said. "I don't think I've taken a day off of work in more than two years … So I can promise you I'd love nothing more than to wake up, realize this was some crazy, horrible dream, and get back to the other issues that kept me plenty busy before COVID showed up."

"But as an epidemiologist, someone who at this point may also seem as if I'm a broken record, I worry that this growing trend of dropping any and all measures will end up costing us in the long run." 


Mandates Not Always The Answer

woman wearing a face mask and peeking out from blinds

"This isn't me endorsing any strict measures or specific approaches," said Osterholm. "As you've heard me say time and time again, I think we really need to think through what certain policies can and can't do. For example, if a mask mandate magically meant that people were properly fitted with N95 respirators and were more than happy to do so, I'd be all for it. But that's not what's realistic in this country."

He added: "Mask mandates, as they've been established, make little sense to me, because they're primarily based on the use of ineffective respiratory protection, whether it be face cloth coverings or surgical masks."

"At the same time, I think we need to constantly be thinking about steps that need to be taken to improve the situation and to be better prepared overall, whether it's for the short term, in the event of a new variant or even the long with later variants that may show up on a global scale." 


"What Criteria Are Being Used?"


Osterholm noted that many countries rolling back or dropping COVID precautions are still experiencing record (or nearly record) high caseloads, and clear standards for those decisions aren't being established. "What criteria are being used to say, 'OK, these levels are acceptable'?" he asked. 

"Even if it's imperfect, I think laying out what specifically is being looked at and why these approaches are being taken would be helpful," he said. "At the very least, it would provide summary reassurances that decisions aren't being made on gut feelings alone, and it would provide some roadmap for any potential future variant emergence." 


Health Care Workers Burnt Out

doctor man taking a break, looking tired, exhausted or sad

Osterholm said there's another danger in rolling back restrictions too early: Healthcare workers are exhausted, potentially making another surge even more dangerous. The UK, in particular, is facing "a huge backlog of patients needing care for issues that were postponed to help cope with the surges and COVID patients," he said. "We need to deal with the burnt-out healthcare workforce. At this point, there is no easy solution … and honestly, I'm not sure the countries that are rolling back restrictions have reached that point yet."


Cases And Deaths Are Still High

Infected patient in quarantine lying in bed in hospital

Osterholm said that in the U.S., COVID hospitalizations and case numbers have declined significantly from last month's all-time high, but he noted that high was stratospheric and has still produced a high death toll. "It's good news that hospitalizations are declining, but keep in mind… we are still experiencing over 2,000 deaths per day," he said. That's near the peak of the first COVID surge in 2020, and the peak of the Delta surge in October 2021." 

"We're still a long way from the numbers we saw last summer in the U.S," he said. "Cases are still nine times higher than the lowest daily cases of just over 11,000 in late June of 2021, and deaths are currently 10 times higher than the lowest we saw in July of 2021. And hospitalizations are four times higher and ICU numbers are 3.6 times higher than the previous lows."


At the Same Time, Vaccination Rates Are Declining

Doctor with a syringe of COVID-19 vaccine and a patient's hand refusing.

"As we are seeing average cases, hospitalizations and death numbers decline, we are seeing the same trend with the number of vaccine doses being administered in the U.S.," said Osterholm. "The seven-day daily averages are decreasing and nearing the lowest number seen since the earliest days of vaccine availability." 

He added: "This does not bode well for preparing us for any future surge activity that could occur with a new variant."

In recent weeks, Osterholm and other experts have said that not enough Americans are fully vaccinated or boosted against the coronavirus. Less than 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and only 42% of people who are eligible for a booster shot have gotten one.


How to Stay Safe Out There

Young woman close-up portrait while wearing face mask.

Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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