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Virus Expert Just Predicted What Will Happen 

Dr. Ashish Jha says here's what our future could look like.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The coronavirus pandemic is not over, as states like Colorado and Alaska are in crisis, despite nationwide downward trends. And experts worry about the coming winter months. With this in mind, virus expert Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University and a former UCSF medicine resident and chief resident, just gave a talk called "Covid-19 — Lessons Learned and What's Ahead: A Conversation with Ashish Jha with the UCSF Department of Medicine," during which he shared "his thoughts on recent pandemic public health and policy developments such as the approval of children's vaccines, the efficacy of mandates, the role of testing, and what the future may hold" with host Bob Wachter. Read on for 6 life saving 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 Predicted This Could be the Endgame

Two exhausted and desperate surgeons.

So what's the endgame for COVID? Dr. Jha is concerned that "the problem is…hospitals get pretty packed and flu seasons and especially a bad flu season really stretches the healthcare system and throw in COVID that, it's twice as many people getting really sick [and] that is going to break our healthcare system. Like our healthcare system can't tolerate that. So I think it's going to be a problem and it was going to require a set of mitigation. Look, we're not going to do lockdowns. There's a lot of stuff that we've done in the in the short run that we're not going to want to do and not tolerate doing. But so where are things where can we do things that are going to be meaningful, useful? I certainly think making substantial investments in indoor air quality is going to be a part of a long-term solution and it will help with the flu as well, but it'll help. Um, Second I think the culture of,  you're hacking up a lung and you're like still in the meeting because you're a really good worker and you're dedicated, that's going to change. It's gotta change. We're not going to tolerate that. You know, he's basically like on death's door, but he's a great resident. He still shows up and does surgery. People can get mad at the person and say you need to be home. So I think that culture change will help. I think some of the stuff that I used to sort of make fun of the deep cleaning, all the surface cleaning stuff, like some of it will stay and it'll actually help with the flu, if not COVID." He can also imagine mask mandates if cases rise—on a state by state basis.

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Virus Expert Said This About the Chance of a New, Worse Variant

Scientists and microbiologists with PPE suit and face mask hold test tube and microscope in lab

What are the chances there's a variant worse than Delta? "Very low likelihood," said Jha. "Like, I don't know if there's a 5% or less—Delta is really contagious and something's going to have to really out-compete it. And it seems a low likelihood, you know, every, a few days, if you read the Twitter thread from [virus expert] Eric Feigl-Ding, there's a, oh my God, there is another variant. Right. Remember Mew for like five days. Everybody was asking me about the Mew there. And then there was a Lambda for a week. These are important. It's possible. One of them were really displaced Delta I'm I guess I'm unconvinced."

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Virus Expert Says He's OK Going Mask-Free Indoors Under This Circumstance

Family talking over dinner.

"Would you get together with a group of six or eight friends and, and let's assume you knew they were all vaccinated," asked the host. "I have," said Jha. "Yeah. Indoors, a mask is off at six people. Part of it is like, I don't think any of them, they're like graying hairs as I am, so they're probably not going out to a bar the night before. Like they tend to be kind of lower risk, plus they're vaccinated. I think it's fine. I think if somebody was kind of high risk, I may think about things like a test, but I feel like it's pretty comfortable. It's not zero risk. I'm gonna get a breakthrough infection out of them with one of them ends up being infected. But yeah, so far I've been pretty comfortable doing that."

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Virus Expert Says Mandates are Working—and the Number of People Quitting Has Been Overstated

Check-in for coronavirus vaccination against Covid-19 with doctor in the background.

Do mandates work? And are a lot of people quitting their jobs over this? "My conclusion looking at the data is there's a noisy minority of in most industries, 1, 2% who are not going to take them, they're gonna, they'll lose their job, but they won't get vaccinated," said Jha. "And it's not enough to really cause serious problems in almost any industry or business. But they get a lot of headlines. We signed initially with Houston Methodist back in May, United Airlines. But the newspapers really elevate the flight attendant who's been a flight attendant for 30 years who says, 'I will go down fighting and I will not get vaccinated,' but the numbers just don't bear out a huge problem on this. The other thing is, people often say to me, well, instead of mandates, we should use persuasion. I, as a public health person always want to start with persuasion. And if somebody out there has like a really good set of tools that we think are going to move large numbers of people over the next few months, I'm totally game. I don't think they exist."

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Virus Expert Says This About the "COVID Pill"

Concept of antiviral drug medication in hand for new COVID19 Coronavirus

Merck has applied for emergency use authorization for a pill that reduces your risk of death from COVID. "We've all thought that having an oral therapy that reduces severity will help," said Jha. "It's certainly going to be better, more available and easier to implement than the monoclonal antibodies, which also are helpful. I get asked a lot and people have started saying is, well, if you have monoclonal antibodies and you have this, maybe you don't need the vaccine. Of course that's nonsense. People need a vaccine. And we obviously understand why that is. But I have elderly parents and, and they got their booster, but they might still get a breakthrough infection at some point I can imagine in six months, I'd love" to have an oral pill. "If there were some tools to like reduce the severity of the infection for them. And so the idea that you could call in a prescription on day two and they could take a five day course and it'll help reduce severity. I think it's great. So I think it becomes part of the tool set."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Young woman taking a vaccine from her doctor.

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, 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.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek