As the world grapples with a new COVID-19 variant, an infectious disease expert predicts how the omicron variant could spark another wave of infections across the country.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, spoke on his podcast about all things Omicron. In an episode entitled “The Rise of OmicronOsterholm described the threat ommicron poses in the US, just as many parts of the country reported record numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in November.
This is alarming, as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on November 26 that ommicron was officially treated as a variant of concern. While the new variant is still under study, Osterholm told Changing America one thing is certain: omicron appears to have a demonstrably higher transmission rate than previous strains of COVID-19.
Osterholm also mentioned a disturbing example in Norway, where almost 120 people are now infected with the ommicron variant after attending a company party.
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That could have serious implications for the US, as Osterholm discussed in his podcast, since early November, the national level of new COVID-19 cases went from about 70,000 a day to 95,000 en route to Thanksgiving. Hospital admissions have also increased, from 46,000 a day in early November to nearly 53,000 a day just days before Thanksgiving.
Those numbers could be compounded further as people start to pick up travel again, with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to announce it screened more than 26 million passengers from November 22 to December 2.
Osterholm explained that all of this data suggests that the US is still battling the delta variant and is in a vulnerable position to face yet another COVID-19 variant.
“Delta is still in full force here and we have to understand that we are not done with this pandemic, despite the fact that a lot of people around the world, and especially here in America, are done with the pandemic,” Osterholm said. .
For example, Osterholm mentioned the state of Vermont, which has seen a record number of new COVID-19 cases. According to the Department of Health of VermontIn November, the state reported the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. That’s despite Vermont vaccinating 84 percent of the population, one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.
Rhode Island is another worrisome example, with Osterholm noting that it is also experiencing an alarming number of COVID-19 cases. The Rhode Island Department of Health reports that the number of new cases and hospitalizations rose steadily throughout November.
Osterholm said states in the upper Midwest and Northeast are also raising a red flag with their high rates of COVID-19-related hospitalizations and new cases. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are all considered virus hotspots in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID data tracker. Michigan is particularly bad, with the CDC reporting that it had nearly 59,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days alone, with about 61 percent of the population vaccinated.
“Until the virus is done with us, the pandemic will not be over,” Osterholm said.
As scientists around the world rush to learn more about the omicron variant, how it behaves and how it performs against the current selection of COVID-19 vaccines, Osterholm stressed that the pandemic is still a long way off. is not over. The infectious disease expert said the best protection people have against the virus for now is to get vaccinated, the same advice the WHO gave when announcing the new variant of care.
As the effectiveness of ommicron vaccines remains uncertain, WHO recommended that vaccination efforts are “stepped up” for all eligible populations. The continued use of masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing was also recommended as variants keep cropping up during the pandemic.
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