National health leaders reference ‘viral blizzard’ on the way

Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 4:34 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - National leaders say a ‘viral blizzard’ is impending. They expect millions to be infected with COVID-19 following the holidays creating another strain on the healthcare system.

On CNN, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, explained what he means by a ‘viral blizzard.’

“We’re really just about to experience a viral blizzard,” Osterholm told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “In the next three to eight weeks, we’re going to see millions of Americans are going to be infected with this virus, and that will be overlaid on top of Delta, and we’re not yet sure exactly how that’s going to work out.”

Most of our COVID-19 cases, including the more than 170 reported in Shelby County between Thursday and Friday, is still the delta variant. The omicron variant is moving fast according to doctors. It’s now present in all three Mid-South states. Arkansas reported its first case of the variant on Friday.

Now, holiday breaks are beginning. The suitcases are packed and the gatherings are planned.

“When you have students coming back from all corners of the country it could shake up the snow globe,” Baptist Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld said.

Doctors said how we handle this holiday season, our second in the pandemic, will impact hospitals possibly into the spring.

“Behaviors over the next week will affect what we see in hospitals over the next two to three months,” University of Arkansas Health Sciences’ Dr. Robert Hopkins said.

Preliminary information says an infection from the omicron variant may not be as severe as we’ve seen in the past. However, doctors say this isn’t information to cling onto quite yet, as some of those infections were breakthrough infections or those who have already been infected with the delta variant.

However, doctors say it appears the variant spreads quickly.

“It’s gone up significantly in the last week,” Threlkeld said. “It’s gone up from like .3 percent of cases to more than that which is still very low, but it’s about seven fold increase. But it’s still going up faster than you’d like to see.”

In Shelby County where there have been two omicron cases reported, the seven day case average has gone up over the last three weeks now at 180 cases.

The positivity rate and reproduction number has also gone up week over week.

At University of Arkansas Health Sciences overflow beds are still being used.

Doctors say we’re at an intersection with COVID and the flu on the rise and holiday gatherings in full swing, and, in just a few weeks, we may know exactly where we turned at that intersection.

“It’s concerning we’re seeing cases go back up again. It’s clear if you look at the graphs and cases we’re in another surge,” Hopkins said.

Doctors say know your status. Know who is vaccinated and who is not at gatherings, and if you’ve had the shot or not get tested.

“It’s another layer of protection, not to replace vaccination and masks and the like, but we now have rapid tests we can do the morning of the gathering and have a pretty good indication,” Threlkeld said.

Long lines have formed at testing sites across the country.

Shelby County testing facilities have not reported a large spike at this point.

During a season where love of family may be front and center, doctors say carry that theme over into implementing COVID-19 mitigation factors at your gathering.

“I’m going to have both my kids who are coming in from other areas of the country who will be around my elderly relatives to do a rapid test,” Threlkeld said.

Doctors say the COVID-19 vaccine is still the best protection against the virus. Plus the booster they say is more important now than ever as the omicron variant has shown to be more evasive of the vaccine.

Click here to find a vaccination location closest to you.

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