Would we be ready for another pandemic today? Osterholm says no

Hospital bed.
Hospital bed. Photo credit Getty Images

How close are we to shifting the story and the realities behind it from COVID-19 the pandemic to COVID-19 3.0, the endemic? Dr. Michael Osterholm doesn't know, but said he does know we are headed down the right path.

Dr. Osterholm talked with News Talk 830 WCCO's Chad Hartman to discuss where we sit with the pandemic two years after the first round of shutdowns hit the U.S.

Osterholm is cautious about making predictions or giving sweeping declarations that the pandemic is over because he said we were in an incredibly similar place to where we were a year ago.

What changed then to throw us off course? Some greek letters.

"The game-changer was these variants," Osterholm said.

While everyone wants the pandemic to be over, the threat of new variants still plays a major factor in what will happen, especially if one that evades protection roles around, he added.

"We could be in a whole other difficult situation, and I think that's the challenge we have is we have to prepare for both," the doctor said.

If there are no more variants from here on out, Osterholm feels confident that vaccines will hold up and COVID-19 will become more of a flu-like illness that brings occasional increases in cases throughout the year.

"I guess that's what you would call back to normal or an endemic," Osterholm said.

But he can't say that's happening just yet.

When comparing today's cases counts, hospitalizations, and death to the numbers from last summer, before the emergence of the delta and omicron variants, Osterholm says we are still in a dangerous spot.

While they are dropping from surges seen in January, numbers are still much higher than we saw last July, Osterholm said. Because of this, he says we need to continue to be ready if another surge roles around.

One thing on Osterholm's mind as of late is the beating that the healthcare professionals have taken throughout the last two years of COVID.

Throughout the pandemic, Osterholm says that close to 500,000 healthcare professionals have walked off the job.

Right now, he says if we were to see another pandemic-level event, we would be in the worst shape of all the years he has worked in public health.

"We have got to restore our medical experts in this world, including public health," Osterholm said.

"This is not just about beds. It's not about equipment. It's the people to actually be there. I think that's an urgent need right now. How are we going to replace these people?"

Osterholm doesn't know himself, but he warned that we could be in trouble if we don't figure out a way.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images