Virus Experts Just Issued COVID Surge Warning
With COVID-19 cases surging in the U.S., virus experts are unsure about how bad things could get. "Any sort of look at the metrics on either a local, state or national level is a severe undercount," says Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist at the Pandemic Prevention Institute, housed at the Rockefeller Foundation. "Everyone knows someone getting COVID now." Here is what virus experts are saying could happen next. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Should Masks Now Be Worn Year-Round?
With new COVID-19 variants and subvariants causing a cycle of infection spikes, some experts are recommending masks be worn year-round. "I believe masks are needed in crowds, on airplanes and in airports, and in areas with poor ventilation," says Peter Gulick, infectious disease expert and professor of medicine in the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. "If you are outdoors, then masks aren't needed, but indoors, especially with a lot of people, you need to wear a mask. I was in the gym working out and there were many people, yet I was the only one wearing a mask. All immunocompromised patients or patients older than 50 years of age should wear them more, rather than less, to stay safe."
Are We Underreporting Infections?
Concern has been raised about how at-home testing could mean there are many more people infected than the data would represent, and also that there is less information about which populations are most at risk. "If we are at a point where our telescope is pointed to a completely different part of the sky, we have less of an understanding of what our case numbers mean and what we are missing," says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University. "The fact that we are doing less testing now in people with lower incomes worries me that we are missing surveillance in possibly one of our highest risk populations."
We Know Less About How Virus Is Mutating
Virus experts are worried that lack of testing around the globe could impact the ability to curb new variants. "Due to testing and sequencing reducing in many countries, it is increasingly difficult to know where the virus is and how it's mutating," says World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Vaccines May Be Updated
Vaccines may be updated to protect against new variants, experts predict. "Yes, vaccines may change, and Moderna is looking to have a bivalent vaccine for omicron by fall, which would target both the original strain of the virus and the variant," says Dr. Gulick. "Other companies are looking to develop a vaccine that may cover more variants. I believe we will probably need yearly boosters, like we get for illnesses like influenza, and change them according to what variants are prevalent at the time. We still need more data on our immune system and memory cells to see the entire picture of how our immune system stores the information on variants of omicron either through natural infection, vaccine or both."
The U.S. Is Currently in Better Shape Than Europe
"We have very, very low ICU admissions. We have really low deaths. And we probably have very high levels of immunity because omicron has infected so many people, vaccination is moderately high and a number of people are being boosted," says Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation director Christopher Murray. "We are in a good state and we will stay that way until the fall and winter, when immunity has waned a lot, or until some nasty new variant shows up."
How to Stay Safe Out There
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.