The omicron variant is spreading fast, causing a spike in new C-19 cases and placing a strain on hospital capacity, but experts stated that the spike could play out in the shape of ice—pick, which will leave the US on better footing as soon as next month.
The American health care system is in for excruciating pain in the short term, but the surge could help end the pandemic in the longer term by conveying broader immunity.
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Experts call for people to buckle down for the last stretch of diligent precautions like mask mandates in public and indoor settings to spread cases out and get hospitals through the next few weeks before the situation improves.
“We need to have sort of the last effort so that we can make it to the spring,” Janis Orlowski, chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), said in a press briefing.
Other experts predict that cases will skyrocket in the US later in January or in early February because of the large size of the country; certain areas will have localized spikes after currently, hard-hit areas like NY have already peaked.
Rochelle Walensky stated on Friday the experience in South Africa indicates a “precipitous increase and then a precipitous decline,” in the shape of an “ice pick,” though she noted that pattern could be the “travels across the country” at different times. Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases professor at Emory University School of Medicine, said that the national peak could come “between the third week of January and the first or second week of February.”
“At this rate, we may actually really be able to reach herd immunity because we’re going to get so many people in the population infected that at some point in time, this may be sort of the beginning of the end of the pandemic, at least in this country,” del Rio said, during a discussion hosted by Emory University. “Because omicron is really going to infect pretty much everybody who hasn’t been infected so far.”
Experts emphasize that it is better to get your immunity from vaccination and boosters without getting sick rather than getting the virus.
The symptoms of omicron are milder than the rest of the variants, and vaccinated and boosted are especially well protected against serious disease.
“We are overrun,” said Orlowski of AAMC.
The US recorded more than 700,000 new cases daily and climbed an unprecedented number through between the protection from vaccinations and omicron’s diminished severity, so many are mild or asymptomatic.
Orlowski and del Rion stated that one-third of patients in the hospital aren’t sick only from C-19, but they have another disease.
Del Rio stated that among patients solely in the hospital for C-19, about 80 to 90% are unvaccinated, and in some cases, have received two doses of the vaccine.
“The percent in the ICU is much lower [than previous surges], but that doesn’t mean that we’re not getting overwhelmed,” del Rio said.
“if there’s a new variant that arises in six months or a year, will they still be protected if they refuse to get vaccinated?”
Few experts are calling for shutdowns like there were in the early days of the pandemic, but steps like mandating vaccination for restaurants, concerts.
Wen said that there is a split between the low risk to persons who are vaccinated and boosted and the existential, very high societal risk of the “collapse of our health care system,” largely fueled by unvaccinated people.
“It may have a long-term beneficial effect for a combination of reasons, leading with the fact that the spike is going to be quick,” said Ross McKinney, chief scientific officer at AAMC. “And then secondarily going to the fact that people may be protected having been exposed.”