Omicron to rise despite Biden's new plan, scientists say

Even as President Biden presented new plans to tackle the highly contagious variant of Omicron on Tuesday, public health experts have wa...


Even as President Biden presented new plans to tackle the highly contagious variant of Omicron on Tuesday, public health experts have warned that the measures would not be enough to prevent a worrying increase in infections and hospitalizations over the years. next weeks.

the administration strategy includes doubling vaccination campaigns and supporting hospitals in the face of a large influx of patients. Federal officials will allocate resources, including army medics, to support health systems and distribute rapid tests to Americans.

But Mr Biden explicitly ruled out lockdowns and other harsh measures of the type put in place when the pandemic first unfolded in early 2020. In interviews on Tuesday, some scientists argued that the rapid spread of the disease variant requires more vigorous mitigation measures.

Some expressed frustration and concern over what they described as a half-hearted public health response and lamented the apparent lack of will by politicians and society at large for more aggressive action.

The crisis is brewing just as Americans prepare to head to holiday gatherings, college students are heading home for the holidays, and young and old alike converge for New Years parties or set off on trips that could spread. more the virus.

Federal health officials on Monday asked healthcare providers to advise their patients to perform rapid home tests for Covid before holiday gatherings, and to ask their guests to do the same. But while the tests are sold without a prescription, prices start at $ 14 for a two-pack, and many stores are sold out.

And contrary to advice given last year, Mr Biden encouraged people to come together and celebrate the holidays, provided they are vaccinated and take standard precautions.

At the same time, he warned that the variant was spreading at an unprecedented rate and said there would be Omicron infections among those vaccinated, apparently resigned to the fact that even those who received boosters can be infected with the highly contagious variant.

“I still can’t figure out how quickly this is changing,” said Joseph Fauver, genomic epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “I think it’s gonna be really bad. I don’t know how to put it another way.

It is not yet clear whether the variant causes milder disease than the previous variants. But some scientists fear that the notion will be widely disseminated and that the public tired by the pandemic has let their guard down.

“This is an incredibly contagious pathogen, and we don’t yet know its impact on severity and mortality,” said Galit Alter, an affiliate immunologist and virologist at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard.

“We must restore the importance and rigor of the first wave,” she added. “We’re back in ‘flatten the curve’ mode.”

Saskia Popescu, an Arizona-based infection prevention epidemiologist, said Biden’s moves must be accompanied by greater vigilance at the community level.

Gatherings indoors should be limited in high transmission areas and masks should be worn even at large events held outdoors, she said. Restaurants should have adequate outdoor seating and ventilation, and should check the vaccination status of customers for indoor meals.

“Now is the time to step up security measures, and I think people are hesitant because everyone is exhausted, but the truth is we need them more than ever,” she said.

Omicron is spreading so quickly that the United States cannot afford to wait to observe how things are done in other countries, as has happened in previous waves, said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, of the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness.

Americans also can’t “bet the farm” on the variant producing less severe disease, he said. The vaccines and boosters Mr Biden urged should help reduce the incidence of serious illness, but vaccinations are more effective two weeks after administration; in the meantime, those who did not go to be vaccinated are very sensitive.

The rapid spread of the variant is likely to strain already overcrowded hospitals and put vulnerable Americans at risk, including the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.

“We need to redouble our efforts to protect them,” said Dr Megan Ranney, emergency physician and academic dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. “The decrease in the spread of the community in general helps them. “

How do you do that? The proposals range from making vaccinations and negative Covid tests mandatory for boarding domestic flights to renewing the preventive behaviors recommended since the start of the pandemic, such as frequent hand washing, wearing masks in closed public spaces, avoiding crowds and keep windows open for ventilation.

“We’ve been through this many, many times,” said Alessandro Vespignani, director of the Network Science Institute at Northeastern University in Boston. “At this point, we know there is a portfolio of interventions that can be layered together. “

Experts recommended giving away high-quality free masks alongside rapid tests and creating a strong public education campaign to ensure people know how and when to use these tests.

Hundreds of public health experts, aerosol scientists, healthcare providers and advocates on Monday signed a letter urging the federal government to encourage indoor masks regardless of vaccination status, claiming that the precaution can be quickly implemented and is very effective.

The Biden administration plans to provide 500 million free rapid tests to Americans – a good start, experts said. But the tests are not expected to be available until January, after many experts fear Omicron’s push is well advanced, and the number is likely to be low as the tests are intended to be used frequently.

People will also need to use a website to request the free tests. Right now, outlets in cities like New York City are running out of rapid tests, so many Americans can’t easily get diagnosed before a rally or theft.

“Right now people have to work too hard to do the things that are necessary to prevent infection and transmission,” said Bertha Hidalgo, epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health.

Ideally, she said, the tests would be more widely available in places people already visit regularly, such as schools and workplaces.

Despite Mr Biden’s advice on Tuesday, Americans planning family celebrations with grandparents or other potentially vulnerable people, or New Year’s celebrations with friends, should reconsider their decision, some experts said.

“If you’re hosting a vacation reunion right now, it’s likely that one in 10 people in that room is infected and don’t know it yet,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University. of Minnesota.

“If you really want to protect yourself during a power surge, you need to limit the contact you have with people in public places and in your own home. “

The Biden administration’s decision not to close entertainment venues, stores, or restaurants, and to keep schools open with new testing procedures, points to the tough choice many governments face as Omicron shuts down. is spreading, said Dr Salim Abdool Karim, associate member of the Ragon Institute. and director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa.

“We can let people decide for themselves and companies decide for themselves the risk, or take structured action and say, These things shouldn’t be done,” he said. Given the rapid spread of the virus, choices must be made quickly: “Time is not on your side,” warned Dr Abdool Karim.

In the United States, many hospitals are already strained under the pressure of the Delta amid an exodus of staff. Hospitals and nurses have started to advocate directly with the public to take the pandemic seriously.

While welcoming Mr. Biden’s proposals, Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, said Tuesday that healthcare workers “have been pushed to the brink.” He reiterated a call to all Americans to get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible.

In Rhode Island, there is little evidence that current measures are sufficient to contain the latest wave. In some hospitals, emergency room wait times have lasted more than 12 hours and doctors are treating patients in parking lots, Dr Ranney said.

“There are no nurses,” she said. “There are no beds. There’s no way to get people in the waiting room to get an IV. There is nothing you can do.

The administration’s plan to mobilize the National Guard to help consolidate overwhelmed hospitals and increase the number of hospital beds is desperately needed, she added.

Standards of care may need to be reassessed, experts said. Staff shortages may force infected healthcare workers to continue working if possible, despite the risk to patients.

Exasperated health workers pleaded with the public to take all possible measures to protect themselves – and to prevent the health system from collapsing.

“Get the vaccine and the booster, for goodness sake,” said Mary Turner, intensive care nurse and president of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “Nurses are at a breaking point.

“A year and a half ago, I compared what we were going into to a war, and we were soldiers going into battle,” Ms. Turner said. “And I tell you, we are losing the war.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Omicron to rise despite Biden's new plan, scientists say
Omicron to rise despite Biden's new plan, scientists say
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