JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Robert Redfield, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he expects another coronavirus variant will form in the next three to 12 months and that it will be even more transmissible than the omicron variant.
Redfield said he realized in March 2020 that the coronavirus was not “SARS-like” -- it was a very different virus.
“SARS is, just to let people know, in 18 years it’s infected less than 10,000 people in the world. This virus SARS never really learned how to go human-to-human. It didn’t transmit asymptomatically. If you had SARS, you had symptoms. So you could focus on symptoms to identify cases,” he explained. “This virus is largely asymptomatic and it’s well adapted for human-to-human transmission, and it continues to evolve. So, unfortunately, since March it was pretty clear to me that we were in a battle with a highly infectious virus that was going to continue to evolve.”
For that reason, Redfield said as parents prepare to return their kids to class during a surge in omicron cases, they play a critical role in keeping their child, other kids, and teachers, healthy.
“The first role is obviously to really think hard and long about getting their children vaccinated. I have 12 grandchildren, nine of them are over the age of five. They’ve all been vaccinated. I strongly encourage parents to take that advantage,” said Redfield. “Secondly, I need parents to really be vigilant about not sending sick kids to school. Third, I need parents to really embrace the school districts that have decided, which I strongly advocate, to do routine testing, hopefully twice a week, once or twice a week to identify silently infected individuals and remove them from the schools. I need parents to embrace the CDC’s recommendation of what we call ‘test and stay,’ rather than have kids every time there’s a contact, have the kids sent home for seven, 10,14 days. No. Embrace ‘test and stay’ as a policy.”
Redfield also said schools need to make sure classes are well ventilated.
He said they’ve also learned something about omicron that reinforces the need for every eligible person to get a booster vaccine.
“So, omicron, if I take my blood, which I’ve been immunized, and I mix it with delta and omicron, my blood is 40 to 50 times less able to neutralize the omicron variant,” Redfield said. “That’s why the boosters are so important. That’s why the durability of vaccine protection to protect you from breakthroughs is going to be much less time for omicron than it is for delta.”
While omicron also spreads much faster than the delta variant -- one person can pass it to as many as 10 people -- Redfield explained why the newer variant is not as deadly as we saw with the delta surge last summer.
“The delta variant replicates extremely well in the lower lung and the upper airway. But as a consequence, it caused a lot of pulmonary insufficiency, and a lot of the hospitalizations and deaths were due to lung failure,” Redfield said. “This variant, omicron, doesn’t like to replicate in the lung. It actually replicates up in your throat and your sinuses, what we call the upper nasopharynx and as a consequence, it’s causing much less severe illness. Now it still can put people in the hospitals, it still can cause death, but it’s definitely much less pathogenic.”