The news of a new COVID variant Omicron comes at a time where the U.S. is heading into the winter, adding a dose of uncertainty at a time when cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising as people increasingly gather indoors.
“The winter months already were a time that we were expecting to have some surge, just by the nature of people going indoors, the cold dry air, which makes it more easily transmissible with viruses,” Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne, an emergency physician at UM Capital Region Medical center, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “Really, what we’re preparing for is a potential perfect storm with the Omicron variant now potentially landing on our shores and making COVID-19 more likely to surge because it’s potentially more easily transmitted to others.”
President Biden's 'absolutely needed' 5 steps
President Biden laid out a five-step plan for how his administration is planning to tackle coronavirus this winter during a press conference on Thursday.
This includes expanding the nationwide booster campaign, launching new family vaccination clinics, offering free at-home COVID tests, increasing the nation’s surge response teams, and accelerating efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world.
“The steps that Biden has outlined are absolutely needed,” Clayborne said. “And I actually think we probably do need to do a little bit more. Specifically, I think we got caught off guard with not doing great surveillance. It was our colleagues in South Africa that picked up this variant. It probably has been circulating the globe for some time.”
As a physician working inside an emergency room, Clayborne said she’s already been seeing many patients coming into the ER for other issues and ending up testing positive for COVID.
“That’s a little bit alarming to me,” she said. “That, on top of the fact that we just had immense travel that took place over Thanksgiving, is really building up to an anticipated huge surge in COVID in the winter months.”
According to data from the TSA, last Sunday, the end of Thanksgiving weekend, saw the highest traveler throughput of the year.
“I know everyone wants to go into the Christmas and holiday season looking forward to seeing their families and loved ones,” Clayborne said. “That’s not going to be possible if we don’t get this under control. And I think people need to be mentally prepared that some of their plans might be interrupted and there might be stricter regulations, such as the testing after international travel that Biden’s administration has pointed to. That’s what we need to do.”
'There's not going to be any end in sight'
Along with the Biden administration’s plan for fighting COVID-19 this winter, which Clayborne described as "absolutely necessary," the doctor also laid out several recommendations of her own.
“The focus right now needs to come back to the basics, which is that we have to go back to masking, social distancing, being very careful with travel and encouraging people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated,” Clayborne said. “This is a dangerous game that people continue to play. There’s not going to be any end in sight. This is where most people have agreed this is going to be endemic, meaning a lifelong virus that we will always have around. There’s no way to protect yourself if you do not vaccinate."
Vaccination has proven to be significantly effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Unvaccinated individuals are 14 times more likely to die from COVID, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
“I want people to ... understand that it’s really in their best interest not just for themselves but for their family, for the children and our community, and for our entire world really to help us get this under better control,” Clayborne said.
This means not only ensuring that you are vaccinated but also making sure that you get your booster shot since they are now widely available in the U.S.
“We already know that there are going to be more and more variants of the coronavirus,” Clayborne said. “That is just the nature of what viruses do. They mutate. And if we give them more opportunity to replicate and that means more people are being infected, then there’s going to be more variants in the future.”
Additionally, conveying accurate information is extremely important, she said.
“Spreading good information, making sure that you’re getting information from reputable sources like physicians such as myself and people who have really looked at the data, understanding what’s going on, not necessarily downplaying the concerns of vaccines for those who are really on the fence about that, but making sure you’re giving them the opportunity to ask the right questions so that they can be comfortable getting vaccinated is important in the United States as well as abroad,” Clayborne said.
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.