Omicron surge 'could really lead to disaster' this winter, says expert

Omicron represents 2.9% of cases in the United States today.
Omicron represents 2.9% of cases in the United States today. Photo credit Getty Images
By , KCBS Radio

The holidays are here and so is the winter surge health experts anticipated in recent months.

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the spread of the omicron variant, family get-togethers and celebrations are making some concerned about how to best protect themselves.

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The issue with omicron is that it's more infectious than delta but it does also appear to cause milder disease, said Dr. Dean Blumberg, a health and infectious disease specialist with UC Davis on KCBS Radio's "Ask an Expert" with Holly Quan and Eric Thomas on Friday.

However, even if only a small percentage of people get severe disease, if there’s a lot of people getting infected because of omicron, "That could really lead to disaster," he said.

Right now, omicron represents about 2.9% of cases transmitted in the United States. Based on research coming out of Europe, the time it takes for that to double is about 2 days, said Blumberg.

On an individual level, if you are vaccinated or boosted, you are likely protected against the new variant, and should feel comfortable gathering with other people for the holidays.

Boosters can be mixed and matched, and it’s been shown that the Pfizer and Moderna boosters can offer effective protection against the new strain.

"If you're not fully vaccinated, the message is get fully vaccinated now and get your booster," he said.

For those feeling complacent about the fact that the new variant doesn't cause severe illness, Blumberg likens it to getting into a car accident, regardless of the severity, "nobody wants to get in a car accident anyway, and nobody wants to get an infection anyway," he said.

It’s a serious situation, as more than 1,000 people are dying everyday from COVID-19 in the United States, he said.

But it is unlikely that hospitals are going to be overwhelmed in the same way as they were in the first months of the pandemic. With new diagnostic and treatment techniques, it's become much easier to detect positive, isolate and treat cases.

The main concern with omicron is that it will lead to another wave of new infections, even if it may not increase the levels of hospitalizations.

Current models that have not taken omicron into consideration have predicted a new peak likely to happen in late January, said Blumberg, with twice as many cases as are being reported now.

"It's possible with omicron it's going to get worse than that," he said. "And we’re going to see a higher peak or a more sustained peak."

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