The US is in a “mess right now” due to the surge in Covid-19 cases, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said.
“The best way to approach it is to say what we know and what we don’t know,” Osterholm told CNN on Wednesday.
It’s clear that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is highly infectious, but it is unclear how many people will get seriously sick and die, he said. Rather, the country is in “unknown territory.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts more than 44,000 new Covid-19 deaths over the next four weeks.
“If you look at those CDC data,” Osterholm said, “if you look at the confidence intervals, you can drive a whole semi load of information through there. There’s a big hole in terms of, just what does the real number look like over the course of the next month? We don’t know.”
Because scientists still are working with limited information, public health leaders have had to make a best guess about what will work to keep people safe. Osterholm thinks the CDC is being too harshly criticized for its decision to change its guidelines to allow certain people to leave isolation or quarantine after a shorter period of time.
“Everything we’re going to do right now is imperfect. Just accept that right now,” Osterholm said.
“We don’t know a lot of the things we wish we’d know, but what we do know and what is emerging here is that this country is going to be in the soup in just the next few weeks with so many cases and so many locations, that we’re going to see critical infrastructure as well as health care challenged,” Osterholm added.
Osterholm predicts that with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, there may not be enough people who are well enough to keep hospitals, grocery stores and gas stations working. The change in CDC guidelines is not just about helping the economy, he said: “It was to play to the very safety of our everyday lives.”