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I'm a Virus Expert and Beg You Do These 3 Things Now Before COVID Surge

Virus expert shares his concerns about COVID and how to stay safe this winter. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

COVID-19 cases have been declining lately and safety guidelines have been relaxed to the point that people are questioning if we're still in a pandemic. We are according to the World Health Organization, but we could reach endemic status soon.  "We are not there yet, but the end is in sight," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a virtual press conference. "A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view. She runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we. We can see the finish line. We're in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running. Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.  If we don't take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption, and more uncertainty."

Other experts agree, but are waiting to see what happens this winter.  William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and co-director of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said despite the temptation to consider the pandemic over, past lessons caution us to wait and see. Last winter's Omicron variant provided an unforgettable example of the need to not let our attention wander." He adds, "Though not as virulent as other variants, Omicron's constellation of mutations stunned scientists when it appeared last fall and fueled its breathtaking spread around the world in the weeks that followed. It rapidly displaced earlier variants and, though not as dangerous on a case-by-case basis, the sheer number of infections it caused have made Omicron much more deadly."

Health officials looking closely at new variants emerging and CBS News reports, "In just over a month since a new COVID variant known as BQ.1 was first named, that strain and a descendant called BQ.1.1 have already grown to make up more than 10% of new infections across the country, according to updated estimates published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "When you get variants like that, you look at what their rate of increase is as a relative proportion of the variants, and this has a pretty troublesome doubling time," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser, said in an interview with CBS News.

Many experts are predicting a rough winter between rising COVID cases increases due to new variants that are evading immunity and flu season and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with doctors who share what to know about COVID right now and how to stay safe this winter.  

Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About COVID Right Now


Dr. Javeed Siddiqui MD/MPH, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U warns "We all must remember that individuals are STILL becoming infected, being hospitalized, and dying from SARS-CoV-2. The numbers are significantly lower than one year ago, but they are NOT zero!"

Dr. Janice Johnston, MD, Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder at Redirect Health says, "If you are feeling sick, it can be helpful to identify what symptoms you are experiencing to best be able to determine if you are sick with COVID-19 or another virus or illness. With the current dominant strain of COVID-19, BA.5, most patients are having symptoms that include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, headaches and achiness. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also very similar to symptoms of the flu, so it's important to recognize which illness you have as quarantine guidelines will vary. If you are experiencing symptoms similar to COVID-19 or the flu, it is still wise to isolate or wear a mask as both viruses are contagious and quick to spread. Each illness can be treated with different prescription medications when indicated, so it is helpful to speak with your doctor to determine what next steps are best for you."


Why This Winter Could Be Bad

Woman outdoor with cold and handkerchief

Dr. Johnston says, "As we know, fall and winter is prime time for illnesses to spread. This is a result of a weakening of the immune system from reduced sunlight and vitamin D, as well as people spending more time indoors and closer together with less ventilation. The same goes for the transmission of COVID-19, which already spreads easily with close proximity and staying indoors. In addition to waning immunity against newer strains, reduced pandemic guidelines, and a potential for new variants, it is good to take precautions as we enter into the fall and winter seasons. Last year, in 2021, we saw the new Omicron variant spike in November, giving way to the possibility of a new variant entering the scene again this year. "

Dr. Siddiqui tells us, "As we enter the fall and winter months, historically, this has been known as the respiratory season. We see increased numbers of infections with a number of respiratory viruses. If we have learned anything since January 2020 is that whenever we underestimate this virus, it reminds us that we are wrong. When we look at Europe, we see that these countries have accurately predicted our epidemiology 4 to 6 weeks later. Early data does indicate an upward trend in the incidence of CoVID 19 cases."


What to Know About the Flu and COVID this Winter

Young woman having flu

According to Dr. Johnston, "While the last two winters/flu seasons have been relatively mild, flu season severity may take a turn this year. Australia has often served as a predictor of what's to come for the U.S., and this year they have experienced the worst flu season in half a decade. Australia's flu season also happened to start earlier this year, another possible indicator of what's to come in the U.S. Additionally, relaxed COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking, social distancing, and remote working/schooling, can allow for the spread of COVID-19 as well as the flu more freely than in the previous years when precautions were more widely followed. While there is still much unknown about this year's looming flu season, experts recommend keeping an eye on both COVID-19 and influenza rates and taking precautions accordingly."

NBC reports, "Hospitals nationwide are preparing for another winter with Covid — the first one that's also expected to include high levels of influenza and other respiratory illnesses that have simmered quietly in the background for the past two years. Flu cases are already rising in parts of the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pediatricians, too, are seeing a growing number of children sick with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and enteroviruses. And despite a downward trend in Covid, tens of thousands of new cases are still being diagnosed every day."


The New Variants

CNBC News reports, "Although the omicron BA.5 variant remains dominant in the country, it is starting to lose some ground to other versions of the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." The media outlet also reports, "Omicron BA.5 has splintered into several new but related variants that include BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and BF.7. The U.K. Health Security Agency, in a report earlier this month, said these three variants are demonstrating a growth advantage over BA.5, which was the most contagious version to date. In the U.S., omicron BA.5 makes up about 68% of all new infections, down from about 80% at the beginning of October. BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and BF.7 are now causing about 17% of new infections combined, according to the CDC data." 

Dr. Siddiqui explains, "There is NO predictability on which new variants may emerge. Also, immunity is variant specific. We have seen individuals who have been infected with CoVID 19 multiple times. We must remain virulent by masking, staying home when we are ill, and getting vaccinated. Depending on the severity of the variant, the past infection can not predict future or current infection. If an individual has a chronic illness, they are at risk with every infection for hospitalization and complications from an infection.


How to Stay Safe This Winter

Doctor vaccinating female patient in clinic.

Staying healthy and boosting your immune system with vitamin C, D and zinc is recommended by health experts and Dr. Siddiqui reminds us, "The virus is NOT gone. We must still mask social distance, and be vigilant about protecting ourselves and others from infection. Please get vaccinated!"

Dr. Johnston urges, "The best thing people can do is to get vaccinated sooner rather than later. The CDC recommends getting your flu shot at least before the end of October. The new COVID-19 bivalent booster is currently recommended for ages 12 and up as long as they are at least two months out from their last COVID-19 vaccine dose. It is also recommended to get both vaccines at the same time to get them both out of the way and be as protected as possible. Protecting yourself is also a way to help protect the communities you live in.

The possibility of a heavy flu season colliding with widespread COVID-19 is concerning for the healthcare system. Experts say that even a moderate-to-high flu season can generate 300,000 to 400,000 hospitalizations, so along with having to deal with a fall or winter COVID-19 wave, this could put a strain on hospitals in your community and around the country. Additionally, at-risk groups for severe disease, including elderly people and those with underlying conditions, should consider taking additional precautions like wearing a mask in crowded settings." 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.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather