Local epidemiologist talks omicron concerns ahead of predicted surge

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The predictions about an omicron surge this winter are dire.

Local epidemiologist Dr. Jonathan Kantor, with the Penn Center for Epidemiology, said if the latest numbers are any indication, we will be confronted with the worst outbreak of COVID yet.

Omicron raced ahead of other variants and is now dominant and the U.S. faces a viral blizzard.

In the U.S., omicron accounted for 73% of new infections last week. CDC numbers show a six-fold increase in omicron infections in only one week. In much of the country, it is even higher.

In the Southeast, it is responsible for 90% or more of new COVID infections.

Kantor said people are tired of hearing it, but the best way to encounter omicron is still vaccinations, boosters and the other precautions we’ve all heard so much about.

“The problem is it’s kind of like when mom gives you advice that you kind of hear over and over again and you kind of are like sick of it, but you know what, generally, mom’s advice is good advice, and I think that’s the same thing that we’re seeing here,” Kantor said. “It may be frustrating to hear people over and over again talk about social distancing, talking about wearing masks, talking about getting vaccines and getting boosters, but I think the reason that we’re doing that over and over again is because it just makes sense.”

Even though it may be milder there will be breakthrough infections. People without vaccinations may wind up in the hospital. Delta is still a big problem, and if health care workers get sick, there is worry the health care system may become overwhelmed again. “I think that’s definitely the central concern,” Kantor said. “If you look at what states are worried about, what health departments are worried about – I mean, they’re obviously concerned about people getting sick, but their main concern from a delivering public health standpoint is: Are we able to handle this wave?”

One doctor at Johns Hopkins put it this way:

“All of us have a date with omicron,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja said. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”

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