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Of the many virus experts forecasting our future, Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, was perhaps the loudest back in June, concerned about new COVID variants and low vaccination rates. Turns out, he was right to be concerned: The delta variant has burned through many Americans, 65 million of whom are eligible for a vaccine and still refuse one. So where does that leave us and will there be another surge to worry about? Osterholm addressed these topics—including which states are in danger—on his podcast. Read on to hear six essential pieces of advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Virus Expert Warns There is Too Much "Human Wood" for COVID to "Burn"
"We have to be better prepared," warned Osterholm. "Last March and April, with the arrival of the Alpha variant had seen what that variant could do, that was so very, very different than all the other viruses we had seen up to that point. And knowing that we had such large gaps in our vaccine coverage—plus the fact that there were still many, many people who had not yet been infected and therefore would have had any kind of immune protection from that infection—I said at the time that I thought that we still have some of the darkest days of the pandemic ahead of us. No one wanted to hear that.I take no comfort in having said that, but the variant data just made it clear and compelling to me that this was likely going to be the case. Well, we saw what happened in June, July, August into September and the price we paid for in this country. So I just come back to that again: we still have at least 65 million Americans who could be vaccinated today based on the recommendations for vaccination who are not. Many of these people have not previously had an infection. And as I've pointed out time and time again, and I know you're tired hearing of this, but we have a lot of 'human wood' yet for this Coronavirus forest fire to burn. So let's just start at that point right now, this surge we're seeing that is subsiding generally across the country. This is not the last of this virus in this country."
Virus Expert Warns These States are in the "Throes of a Surge"
"If you look right now, we're still in the throes of a serious surge activity in at least six states in the United States. Just in the past two weeks, the cases have increased 37% in Colorado. Minnesota has had a 29% increase. Michigan has had a 26% increase, North Dakota, 12%, New Hampshire, 12% and Maine 6% other than Colorado. These are all basically Northern tier states and Colorado is close. Why are we seeing this activity now? And just think about this whole last surge. Remember it started in the hot, hot south during the months of August. And it then expanded from there covering parts of the Northwest, making its way up the east coast. And now sitting here in these Northern states during the colder months, things are surely cooling down. There's no consistent pattern here whatsoever."
Virus Expert Warns These Areas Could Still See a Surge
"I think that first of all, we have to dismiss the fact that we can anticipate what this virus is going to do because of a season," said Osterholm. "I think maybe one day that'll be the case, but it's not now. If you also look at the fact that this surge has missed basically the New York metropolitan area and the LA and Southern California area, yet as I pointed out last week, LA county, right now as overall 61% of their population fully vaccinated, those are 12 and older, only 70%. If you look in New York, for example, in the Bronx, 57% are fully vaccinated among those 12 and older, the Queens, 71% Brooklyn, 57% Staten Island, 60%. There are lots of people left in the New York metropolitan area to become infected. And we've seen that from the other countries of the world where vaccination levels are much higher, like Singapore, like Israel."
Virus Expert Said Don't Be Too Optimistic. That Has Burned Us Before.
"If we look at the Delta surges in the United States, we've seen activity for six to eight weeks after the surge begins, drops down, but then it may pick up in another area. I think our experience in the U.S. has passed bringing into the summer is an example of one of these lessons that we need to learn. Again, we were on the downward slope of a record high winter peak vaccinations were ramping up and warmer weather was on its way. We even shifted the podcast every the week because people seem to think the pandemic was over for many in the U.S. The combination of those things might've led them to believe that the COVID days were over. This represents June thinking when daily cases dropped a list of 12,000 per day and hospitalizations and deaths hit their lowest level of the pandemic, we thought we were done well, you saw what happened from there."
Virus Expert Said Don't Declare "Premature Victory" Since So Many People Remain Unvaccinated
"I'm not saying this to discount any feelings of optimism," said Osterholm. "In fact, I think the latest trends in the U.S. deserve some optimism, although the vaccine uptake among those who have not yet been vaccinated has come to almost a screeching halt. So that's going to be a challenge. So we are excited by the fact that the average daily cases fell below 90,000 this past week. Again, they were above 160,000 per day, just a month and a half ago. Hospitalizations have also fallen from nearly 104,000 to 64,000 a day, and slowly but surely, we're seeing deaths go downward, although they still remain about 1,600 overall. This is an improvement compared to where we were, but we must not prematurely declare victory. I worry that again, we'll convince ourselves or on the exit path with this virus only to be confronted with yet another rise in activity based on vaccination rates."
Virus Expert Said These States are Doing Better Than Others
"Some states are certainly in better positions than others," said Osterholm. "Meaning the Northeast, including Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island has successfully vaccinated 65% or more of their entire populations. However, there are still 15 states with less than 50% of their populations fully vaccinated. So at this point, let me just say, we're not done. We look at other countries like Singapore, the United Kingdom, Israel that have much higher vaccination rates, and we do, and they're seeing ongoing activity. We will see activity. Will it be a fall winter surge? I don't know, could be anywhere that tells you it absolutely is. They don't know what they're talking about because there's no data to tell us that's what it could be. We certainly saw a surge last year in that December, January, February time period—could happen again this year. I think the areas that have been hit hard with this virus over the course of the summer, we'll likely see potentially less activity, although with the increased number of people not vaccinated in those same states, we could see substantial surges again. So I leave you with the fact that we can't make the mistake of returning to thinking like June. We still have a lot of work to do." So get vaccinated, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.