Want COVID-19 to be over? What if we told you the current surge wasn’t anywhere near ending? That’s the message the virus expert Dr. Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, delivered to MPR. In his view, the reopening of schools, many of which are using COVID precautions suited to the old COVID, not the new Delta variant, will result in outbreaks all over the USA—and he says exactly where he thinks it’ll hit next. Click through to discover 6 essential pieces of advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You Have “Long” COVID and May Not Even Know It.
Osterholm predicts a further spike in Delta cases. “I do,” he warns, “and one of the challenges we have right now is as a country, we’re in a series of regional epidemics of COVID overlaid into one big national pandemic outbreak. For example, initially we saw cases rapidly elevated in Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Southern Missouri, Northern Arkansas, and Mississippi. Those numbers are actually leveling off and starting to come down. What we’re seeing now, however, is big regional increases in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Southern Indiana, Southern Illinois. We’re beginning to see it surely in the Northwest, in places like Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana. And we’re beginning to see it in the upper Midwest. And so what’s happening is as the case numbers are coming down regionally and most Southern Sunbelt states are now going up in these other areas. And the challenges that the surge because of the overlaying outbreaks could truly last well into October and potentially even longer than that.”
“First of all, we have to understand that the situation we have with school children this year is very different than we had last year,’ said Osterholm. “This Delta variant has fundamentally changed the whole situation in terms of transmission a year ago.” The former form of COVID, he says, “was not well transmitted between kids. You didn’t see them transmitting to others. They were not often infected themselves. That’s changed. They are now—the kids are now just as likely to get infected as adults and they’re just as likely to transmit it. So from that perspective, much of the work that was done to make recommendations about how to handle schoolchildren were from a pre Delta era. And those recommendations really are no longer effective in terms of what we need to do. So we have to understand we’re going to have real problems in our schools.”
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So how can we begin to keep kids safe? “Number one,” he says, since they’re too young to get vaccinated, is “quality masking, the N95 or KN95 mask, but even more importantly, there’s a whole hierarchy of environmental controls” including “vaccination. First of all, everyone—12 years of age and older, faculty, staff, teachers, parents—all should be vaccinated. Second of all, you need to dramatically improve the air ventilation. In many of these school rooms, you need five to six air exchanges an hour. There are machines that are really good, effective filter machines that can be used in classrooms that will take out the virus. These are called HEPA filter machines. In addition, we need to make sure we don’t crowd our students. You can’t be three feet apart. Those recommendations are old. They don’t work. We need at least six feet distance on average. And again, as you’ve heard me say to before, if you could smell a cigarette” through your mask, it’s not effective.
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Says Osterholm: “These vaccines are incredibly safe. If you look at the number of people who have been vaccinated, almost 200 million people in this country, and you look at the very, very rare events that have occurred, these vaccines are safe or safer than aspirin. So if you have a problem taking aspirin, then you may have a problem with these vaccines. If not, use it.”
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Although Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that vaccinated people can carry the COVID virus and pass it along to others, and thus they should use caution, he has also said breakthrough infections are rare and lead to less severe infections. Not always, but usually. “There’s been a lot of miscommunication about what the risks really are to vaccinated people, and how vaccinated people should be thinking about their lives,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the New York Times today. “There are people who think we are back to square one, but we are in a much, much better place.” He also says you’re more likely to spread if you’re symptomatic. “When we’ve seen outbreaks, like those among the Yankees earlier in the year and other cases, almost always people are symptomatic when they’re spreading,” Dr. Jha said. “The asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic spread could happen, but we haven’t seen it among vaccinated people with any frequency.”
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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated 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.