Monday, December 20, 2021
A COVID-19 'viral blizzard' is about to hit the US, expert says
With COVID-19 hospitalizations rising as the holiday season gets into full swing, experts are urging people to take precautionary measures against a new variant that may quickly sweep the nation.
While the delta variant is still a worrying presence, there could be millions of more Americans infected within weeks due to the high transmissibility of the omicron variant, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
"I think we're really just about to experience a viral blizzard," Osterholm told CNN on Thursday. "I think in the next three to eight weeks, we're going to see millions of Americans are going to be infected with this virus, and that will be overlaid on top of delta, and we're not yet sure exactly how that's going to work out."
With so many possible cases from omicron — which scientists believe to be more contagious though most cases so far appear to be mild — there will be a serious strain on the health care system as more workers will likely get sick, Osterholm said.
"What you have here right now is a potential perfect storm," Osterholm said. "I've been very concerned about the fact that we could easily see a quarter or a third of our health care workers quickly becoming cases themselves."
Andy Slavitt, a former senior pandemic adviser to President Joe Biden, said that while tools such as vaccines are now available rather than during last winter's surge, "a very rough January" lies ahead due to omicron.
"For the health care workers, the hospitals, for people who are sick, even sick with things other than COVID, that represents a real danger and a real threat," Slavitt told CNN on Thursday.
Various sectors of American life are already showing signs of strain. Some colleges and universities are returning to online learning. Sports leagues are postponing games due to players testing positive, and live shows in theaters are canceling performances.
Long lines for COVID-19 testing were seen Thursday in metro areas such as New York, Boston and Miami.
With Christmas and New Year's Eve approaching — and the accompanying travel to see friends and families — getting vaccinated or boosted remains key.
Recent lab studies of blood that was taken from vaccinated people and exposed to engineered copies of omicron showed that the variant can evade some protection offered by two doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, but a booster dose restores much of that immunity, researchers reported Wednesday. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has shown similar results.
The daily rate of vaccinations is up around 22% from a month prior, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than half of vaccinations being booster doses. At the current pace, it will take more than two months for at least half of adults to get a Covid-19 booster, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data.
Biden said Thursday that vaccinations and boosters are essential to keeping businesses and holiday gatherings safe.
"For the unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death," he said. "But there's good news if you're vaccinated and you have your booster shot, you're protected from severe illness and death."
Vaccines still the best way to fight COVID-19, officials say
Even with the potential spread of the omicron variant, former Obama White House health policy adviser Dr. Zeke Emanuel said that the U.S. has tools to fight COVID-19 unlike during its onset.
"In March 2020, we didn't understand a lot about coronavirus. Second of all, we have vaccines now. We have the ability to change those vaccines. We're getting oral therapeutics. We have much better tests and test availability. None of that's perfect, but it's much better than it was in March 2020," Emanuel told CNN on Thursday.
Continued research into additional drugs to fight coronavirus is ongoing.
Merck's COVID-19 antiviral, molnupiravir, lowers the risk of hospitalization or death in high-risk unvaccinated adults by 30%, according to a statement issued after publication of its clinical trial data in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Among people who got the treatment, the risk of hospitalization and death was 6.8%, compared with 9.7% among people who got a placebo, the study said. There was one death in the treatment group, compared with nine deaths in the placebo group.
While successes are being found in some treatments pre- and post-infection, the rates of severe disease and death for those vaccinated continue to prove much lower even with data showing vaccines' reduced effectiveness against certain variants.
"Given the increased risk related to the delta and omicron variant, it is important to increase uptake of primary vaccination and booster doses in all eligible populations," said Heather Scobie, a member of the CDC's Enhanced Surveillance Epidemiology Task Force COVID-19 Emergency Response.
People can travel safely with precautions, Fauci says
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he is certain omicron will become the dominant variant relatively soon.
"It has what we call a doubling time of about three days. And if you do the math on that, if you have just a couple of percentage of the isolates being omicron, very soon it's going to be the dominant variant," he told ABC.
Yet as long as people get vaccinated and utilize precautions such as mask-wearing, Fauci said, lockdowns seen last year may not be needed and traveling for a Christmas with other vaccinated people can be done safely.
"If you are vaccinated, and particularly if you are boosted, you're going to have to wear a mask on the plane anyway. That's a regulation. But be prudent and careful. When you go to the airport, particularly, that's an indoor congregate setting," Fauci told CNN.
"I believe that if people follow the recommendations of the CDC about indoor masking, take the advice of getting vaccinated and getting boosted, we should be fine for the holidays, and we should enjoy it with our family and our friends."
Source: KCRA News