Dr. Osterholm says he is 'sleeping with one eye open' looking for new variants

COVID-19 variants.
COVID-19 variants. Photo credit Getty Images

While all metrics used to measure the seriousness of the pandemic are improving and progressing towards pre-omicron variant levels, experts are warning us to be cautious.

"Do not for a moment think that we understand and know all that is going on with this virus," Dr. Michael Osterholm said.

The epidemiologist joined News Talk 830 WCCO's Chad Hartman to discuss what is going on with COVID-19.

For weeks public health officials have looked to countries that first experienced a surge in new cases due to the omicron variant, using them as a metric to determine when the wave could end.

However, Dr. Osterholm shared that while most have improved, some are starting to struggle again.

"In some countries, the tail has been, actually, longer and higher than it was before the big surge increased," Osterholm said.

He added that countries like Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore, who thought they had the virus under control, are seeing another rapid increase in cases and deaths.

"Today, Hong Kong is reporting more deaths per 100,000 [people] than the United States has the whole pandemic, which is just remarkable," Osterholm said. "Just 10 weeks ago, people said, 'If we were just like Hong Kong, we would be okay.' They had 22 deaths up to that point in all of the pandemic."

As of right now, Osterholm says that he is not seeing anything pointing to omicron making a resurgence in Minnesota or the United States. However, they still don't understand the SARS-CoV2 virus fully.

"What we don't understand is will this virus come back again, but it's a different virus in a sense so that immunity we have from vaccinations, the immunity we have from natural infection, would not be all that protective?" Osterholm asked. "And we just don't know that answer."

Looking at the best possible scenario for what could happen, Osterholm says he hopes COVID-19 will be like a flu-like virus from here on out, but he can't rule out the possibilities.

"I sleep with one eye open looking for variants," Osterholm said.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden mentioned a new plan to turn the corner on the pandemic with four primary goals; Protecting against and treating COVID-19; Preparing for new variants; Avoiding shutdowns; and fighting the virus abroad.

On Wednesday, the plan was released, and Osterholm shared that he has been working with the Biden administration as one of several health officials and experts helping build the plan.

He said that he is happy with it and looks forward to the steps that are being taken as they are "learning from past mistakes."

"I think it's a very positive thing," Osterholm said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images