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Virus Expert Just Warned of New Surge

Dr. Michael T. Osterholm uses his crystal ball.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

While some experts have said the pandemic is "winding down"—or, as comedian Bill Maher put it this weekend, "over"—"The important message here is COVID is not done," warned one of the most prominent virus experts just now. Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, spoke with Freddie Bell on KMOJ to issue a warning about what this winter could bring: more deaths, unless more people get vaccinated. How can you stay safe? Read on for 5 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.


Osterholm Predicts a Fifth Wave


"We still have 65 million Americans who could be vaccinated, who are not, and that is more than enough 'human wood' for this coronavirus forest fire to burn. And so what we've seen happen throughout the world, where basically we don't get a large proportion of our population vaccinated—we see these surges, some countries are now in their fifth surge, where cases go up and they come down. Now we don't really understand why they suddenly start to increase. A lot of them, they suddenly start to decrease. We do know that the level of vaccination has a lot to do with how big that peak of cases happens to be. So in that sense, we have a lot of impact on that surge. So why I'm concerned yet is we still have so sizable number of people who are not vaccinated—65 million in this country alone, that's a lot of people to still get infected. So we can very reasonably expect that we could see another surge of cases this winter, for example, but we can do a lot about that if we get people vaccinated."


Osterholm Said Here's Who Will Be Hit Hardest


"Unfortunately also we still have gaps in getting vaccine to particularly communities of color and to those who do not necessarily have a medical home, they don't have a routine clinic. They don't have a routine doctor, nurse that they see. And so we continue to need to get vaccine to that group and, and they have been disproportionately hit hard by this most recent surge. So I think the message is, over and over again, please get vaccinated. If you don't, this virus will find you. And unfortunately we will continue to see these increased numbers of cases, particularly in he BiPAP community." "I'm incredibly doubtful this is our last surge, and I think some geographic areas are going to be hit again," Osterholm told the Washington Post. "There's this waning immunity issue. Is it or is it not occurring, and how much? Could we be back in the soup again when we're in pretty darn good shape today? What will it be like in 12 months?"

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Osterholm Said Here's Why This Winter Could Result in More Deaths

Young sick woman lies tired in bed with a face mask and holds her head because of a headache.

"It would be" right to say this this winter should be better than last, with so many people vaccinated, "but the problem is, is that when these surges occur, even if they impact only 10 or 20% of the population, you still have a terrible, terrible problem. I mean, you can still see the number of cases in hospitals, the overrun hospitals. And so we still have enough to have another surge where we could see  just tremendous challenges in our communities, many, many ill people and many people die. And so, you know, until we even get well into the 90% level of people protected, this virus will find you. And so, we're making progress. In fact, a year ago, we were not nearly as good a shape as we are now. And despite that look what happened with the surge of cases last January, February, and March. Look what happened with July, August, September, October in this country. And we're ripe to have another one of those surgeries if we don't continue to get people vaccinated. So please, if you're hearing this and you think, 'Ah, it's not going to affect me no.' I can't tell you how many families I've dealt with in the last, uh, two or three months where they thought it would never happen to them. And now mom or dad or grandpa and grandma, or even their children are no longer with us."

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Osterholm Said This About When the Pandemic Will "End"

Nurse taking blood sample from young female patient in the background. Selective focus on sample tube.

If Osterholm could predict when the pandemic would end, "I would be in Las Vegas right now," he said. "Every morning I wake up, I try to scrape the five inches of mud off my crystal ball and take a look. We have to remember, this is a global pandemic, worldwide epidemic. And so what happens around the world also impacts us here. One of the things we're very concerned about with this virus is how frequently it mutates every time it reproduces itself, it's like another throw into genetic roulette table. And when these mutations occur, in some instances, they make the virus more infectious or they make the virus so that it may not be as— the vaccines and having immunity from having been infected aren't as protective as they once were. And so if we continue to see cases around the world—and remember, take a continent like Africa, only 3% of the population of Africa is vaccinated today. So we've got to make a major global effort to get people vaccinated. And when that happens, then we have a better chance of saying, okay, we've moved past this one. It's over with, we're not nearly as worried about these new mutations occurring that could impact on our own vaccine success or in the United States. So we've got a ways to go yet, which people don't want to hear, but that's the truth."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.

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