Dr. Michael Osterholm gave a stark warning on what he predicted would be a sharp spike in new COVID-19 cases — driven primarily by the highly-infectious Omicron variant — during Thursday’s broadcast of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.
Osterholm, who serves as both a member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board and as the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned that Omicron was likely to drive such a dramatic increase in cases that it would be difficult for most Americans to continue going about business as usual.
“What’s your take on the isolation down from 10 days to five?” host Willie Geist began, pointing to the recent and drastic changes in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines on testing and isolation. “It’s more of what people can tolerate, according to Dr. Walensky, and hopefully getting people back to work and school, perhaps to set some people’s minds at ease, but is it based on science in your view?”
“Right now we have a very imperfect situation that’s going to require some very imperfect responses. Over the next three to four weeks, we are going to see the number of cases in this country rise so dramatically that we’ll have a hard time keeping everyday life operating,” Osterholm replied.
“Already we are seeing it in our healthcare settings where we can lose 10 to 20 percent of healthcare workers who are not available to work. We are seeing that right now in critical infrastructure areas where people can’t come to work.”
Osterholm went on to note that, while he wasn’t certain the CDC’s new guidance was “perfect,” it was designed to ensure that even amid a dramatic uptick in cases, there would be people able to continue going to work and keeping as many essential services operational as possible.
“You would like to have more time to allow people to clear the virus and not potentially be transmitting it. At the same time, we got to have people who are there every day who are doing the work. How can you provide the safest environment? I support what they are doing. I think it’s not perfect. It won’t be perfect and what we have come before us in the next few weeks is hardly going to allow for a perfect response,” he explained.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins pushed back on the new guidelines in a Wednesday interview with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, saying that the shift in testing and isolation requirements appeared to be more based on business concerns than science. Walensky argued that because people were not taking the precautions put forth earlier, public health experts had moved instead toward adopting guidance that more people could “tolerate.”
“It really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate,” Walensky said, adding, “We have seen relatively low rates of isolation for all of this pandemic. Some science has demonstrated that less than a third of people are isolating when they need to. We really want to make sure we have guidance in this moment where we were going to have a lot of disease that could be adhered to, that people were willing to adhere to, and that spoke to specifically when people were maximally infectious. So it really spoke to both behaviors and to what people were able to do.”
Watch Osterholm’s interview below: