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Virus Expert Warns Here's Where COVID Will Surge Next

"The risk right now is to the Midwest where you have rising infection."
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

With cases predicted to reach one million  day—and the more transmissible Omicron variant representing 94% of cases—COVID infections are out of control. And even if the new variant may be less severe than Delta, hospitals will still be overwhelmed with patients, specifically the unvaccinated ones. How can you stay safe? Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who sits on the board of Pfizer, appeared on Face the Nation yesterday with host Margaret Brennan. Read on for five life-saving tips—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Virus Expert Said Here's Where COVID Will Surge Next

Sick woman lying in bed with high fever.

To be clear, COVID is surging nationwide. No state doesn't have a ton of Omicron. But some places are peaking now while others are on the rise. "I think what surprised us was that the virus was able to mutate so heavily and evade the immunity that we've acquired," said Dr. Gottlieb. "But if you look what's happening across the East Coast right now, New York City, Washington D.C., Maryland, probably Florida as well have already peaked, maybe Delaware and Rhode Island. You start to see that in the statistics this week, you're gonna start to see those curves, those epidemic curves bend down. You're already seeing that in New York City and Washington D.C.. The risk right now is to the Midwest where you have rising infection, where they aren't in the thick of their Omicron wave yet. And you have states that had high hospitalization rates going into this, they had a lot of Delta infection. They have been coming out of their Delta wave. So their hospital surge was already high. And now they're seeing infections pick up." Keep reading to see what your chances are of getting infected.


Virus Expert Said This About Your Chances of Catching Omicron

Traveler woman in virus protection face mask in international airport.

Can you just catch Omicron walking down the street? Is it that contagious? "I certainly don't think an outdoor setting… represents the same level of risk" as indoors, said Dr. Gottlieb. "But the reality is that your risk is binary. You can have a casual encounter and contract the illness. You can have a prolonged encounter and not." So do the methods of social distancing, for example, still work? "The CDC with those kinds of recommendations, about 15 minutes of cumulative exposure, things like that, with six feet of distance, they're trying to gauge on average where the highest risk of exposure occurs and it occurs where long exposures and confined settings with people who are infected. We know that, but the reality is with an airborne illness like  this, if you're in a setting, a confined saying that's poor air circulation, it doesn't matter if you're six feet or 10 feet, you're gonna be at risk attracting it. Right? And this isn't like radiation where you have a cumulative risk, right. Which is why the math matters so much."

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Virus Expert Warns That Hospitals are Pressed to Capacity Right Now, Despite These Bright Sides

Tired exhausted female scrub nurse

"On a good side, hospitalizations are down relative to cases, but cases are up substantially. So it's pressing hospitals. Many of the hospitals on the East Coast are going to reach or surpass their previous hospitalization totals. New York City is probably the city that's best equipped to handle it. They're about at 55% of the hospitalizations that they saw during that devastating first wave. But in other states, they're more pressed. They're closer to a hundred percent of the hospitalizations they saw in previous waves. Finally, on the good side, length of stay is down substantially. So length of stay has gone from four days to 1.6 days in, in the survey by Kaiser, for example. So that's allowing hospitals to turn over beds, but this sheer velocity spread right now and the number of hospitalizations is pressing them," said Gottlieb.

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Virus Expert Says Remember This if You Get COVID, When it Comes to Isolating Yourself

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

Brennan asked Gottlieb for clarification on the CDC's recent (and confusing) COVID quarantine guidance. According to one UK study, "10 to 13% of people will still be infectious from COVID on day six. On day six in the United States, the CDC says, you can go back to work, you can go back school, but they tell you don't go to a restaurant and don't travel. What do you do on day six?" "Right. And look, the CDCs guidance recommended that you wear a mask for five days after your isolation period, recognizing that a certain cohort of people is still gonna be sharing the virus," said Dr. Gottlieb. "I think what underlies the CDC recommendation: There is a recognition that this is an epidemic that's not being spread, if you will, by people who get diagnosed, isolate for five days and go back into public circulation on day six. While a certain percentage of them will still be infectious, they're not driving the pandemic. What's driving the pandemic right now is the fact that we're probably only diagnosing somewhere between one in five and one in 10 actual infections. and there's a lot of people walking around with mild illness or asymptomatic infection who don't know it, who are spreading it. So if you start from that premise, and if CDC was sort of upfront about that premise, what it really tells you is that if you are, so you are someone who's isolated for five days and on day six, you're gonna go back to work. You need to be mindful of what the setting is that you're reintroducing yourself into. Are you taking care of people who are vulnerable at home? Are you going into a healthcare setting or another setting where there's vulnerable people? And if you are, you need to be more vigilant. Maybe you use a diagnostic test to make sure you're no longer shutting virus. You certainly wear a mask in that circumstance. But I think if CDC was more granular, more descriptive in what they are actually doing and why. And the fact that they recognize that there's gonna be a certain number of people who are people could take more actions on their own."

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Virus Expert Warns There's "A Lot of Risk Right Now" and This is the Best Thing to Do For Kids

Child girl wearing a protection mask against coronavirus

When asked about kids, Dr. Gottlieb said, "Look, there's a lot of risk right now. I think you have to look in on what the precautions are in the settings, in which you're putting your children and try to encourage those who are taking care of your children in those settings to put in place measures to try to protect them. The risk is to young children right now. If you look at New York City, for example, fully 55% percent of the hospitalizations of pediatric hospitalizations are children ages zero to four, and they only represent 26% of the population. So we're seeing a lot of hospitalizations in those younger age groups.Where the children are largely unvaccinated, five to 11 as well, where we vaccination rates are very low, only 16% of five to 11 year olds have been fully vaccinated. I think the old rules apply, try to encourage social pods in those settings, uh, hand hygiene. I think masks can be helpful where they can be worn. It's hard with the very young kids, trying to keep kids distanced. The best thing that schools could be doing right now is serial testing. Again, hard to do with the very young kids. Although you can do pooled samples like saliva tests and also keeping them in social pods. So if you have a class of 10 trying to break it down, so all the kids aren't intermingling. So if you have a single introduction, it's not gonna take down the whole class." Get vaccinated and boosted 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