Just as it seemed the world was settling into a new normal, Omicron struck with brutal efficiency. The variant that was first discovered in South Africa quickly spread around the globe, increasing COVID numbers to their highest point since the pandemic began.
The Director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Michael Osterholm, revealed how we could safeguard our health and others during these uncertain times. With factual information at hand, he lets us in on what to expect from our health institutes gives us tips on protecting ourselves from the virus.
1. Expect a Major Health Crisis
Osterholm warned that the variant is highly infectious and “has taken off around the world.” Fortunately, the Omicron variant appears to cause less severe symptoms in those infected. However, with more people infected, even if fewer of them are getting seriously ill, the number of those seeking medical attention will still spike. Healthcare institutions will face challenges in dealing with the higher number of patients.
Additionally, although healthcare workers have been vaccinated and have received their booster shots, they might still get infected. This would mean them being off work for five to ten days, increasing the strain on the healthcare system.
2. Some Hospitals Won’t Have Doctors While Others Will Have Sick Doctors
Losing 10% to 20% of doctors to COVID infections, as is happening in Minnesota, creates a shortage of healthcare workers. Because fewer doctors are available, some hospitals allow their healthcare workers to go to work even though they have tested positive for the virus. Those with mild or no symptoms can remain at work as long as they take the necessary precautions.
These institutions feel that it’s better to have a healthcare professional available in their N95 respirator than not to have a doctor at all. Osterholm says that this scenario is playing out all over the country.
3. Wear an N95 Mask
A cloth mask is just not enough protection. Osterholm emphasizes that N95 masks are much better at protecting wearers from COVID. He says that they have a better fit and can filter the air as well. A well-fitted mask is important as it keeps a tighter seal in place. However, with this seal, it’s harder for air to make its way through the cover. This is where the blow-in material of the N95 respirator comes in, filtering the air you are breathing in and offering better protection than cloth masks.
4. Get Vaccinated
If you are fully vaccinated, meaning that you have received your third dose, you have a dramatically reduced chance of getting seriously sick or dying from COVID. The second benefit to being vaccinated is that fewer people will require medical attention, freeing up space for those who will need it.
5. The Most Important Thing You Can Do Now
Dr. Osterholm believes that COVID infection rates will rise substantially over the next three to four weeks, including hospitalizations and not just positive cases. The number of patients who will need oxygen and ICU care always go up after the initial wave of infections. And the situation isn’t likely to be different with Omicron. The most important thing to do right now would be to hunker down for the next three to four weeks to help slow infection rates.
Stay Safe When You Leave Home
If you really must go out, follow all the public health protocols. Get vaccinated or boosted if you haven’t already, wear an N95 face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, avoid travel and practice good hygiene.
COVID can be scary to deal with; that’s why taking precautions to stay safe and look after the health of our community is so important. Armed with the advice that Dr. Osterholm has given us, we should be better able to weather the storm.