However, there are still several states that are struggling to handle rising cases, especially as colder weather brings more people indoors and may make viral transmission much easier. The complacency that comes with improved data combined with the still high numbers of unvaccinated Americans could, in fact, help start a deadly fifth wave of the virus, according to Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
“Just remember that sixty-five million Americans who could be vaccinated right now are not. That is more than enough human wood for this coronavirus forest fire to burn. So, we’ll see when the case numbers come down with this surge, just as we have with the previous surges,” Osterholm noted in a recent interview on Minnesota Public Radio.
“And you may recall last spring that I thought the darkest days of the pandemic were ahead of us. And we were facing that June period when everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s done.’ We’ve got vaccines, hardly any cases—and then look what happened. Well, that's going to happen again because you have places like New York City, L.A., and other large metropolitan areas with lots of people. … I can’t say this enough times: If you are not vaccinated, this virus will find you. And you will know a COVID-19-related outcome. We could see again major activity. (It could be this) winter, next spring, I don’t know when but it’s not done. It is not done. The one thing that will help us get it done is to get vaccinated,” he continued.
Osterholm is also a strong proponent of booster shots, saying that they “are absolutely a part of the future. When you think about what we’ve done with these vaccines over the course of the last eighteen to twenty months … these vaccines are really incredible, but they’re not perfect.”
COVID Becoming Endemic?
As to whether COVID-19 will eventually become endemic like the seasonal flu, Osterholm stated that he believes “that will happen … [but] I don’t know when.”
“Every morning I get up I scrape those five inches of crusted mud off my crystal ball. And every day, it seems cloudier and cloudier. If we see a major change and variant, and they do something different than they’re doing now, that could surely cloud the picture of: When does it just become like flu? Like every year, we have some cases, we may have some moderate increase in cases,” Osterholm added.
“But that is not what it’s doing now. I think we forget about the fact of just what damage this virus has done with over the seven hundred thousand deaths that have occurred—one out of every five hundred Americans has died from this virus. That’s amazing when we look at the fact that there are now over a hundred forty thousand kids in this country who have been orphaned, or whose sole caregiver has died, because of COVID-19,” he concluded.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.