Doctors discuss the future of COVID-19 – WEAU

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – It’s been more than two years since the first COVID-19 case was discovered in China.

Since then, the virus traveled world, mutated and upended lives.

As of Wednesday, it’s still spreading throughout the globe.

“We have widespread exponential transmission of this virus nationwide,” said Dr. Paul Mueller, Mayo Clinic Southwest Wisconsin Regional Vice President.

He said COVID-19 is spreading rapidly due to the Omicron variant.

“Just last Dec. 4, it account for less than 1 percent of cases, and the Delta variant is now only 1.7 percent of cases,” Mueller said. “So clearly Omicron has taken over.”

Mayo Clinic Health System infectious diseases specialist Dr. Raj Palraj said the good news about Omicron is studies show it causes a milder illness.

“The Omicron variant predominantly infects our nose and throat rather than the lung tissue so it causes a less severe pneumonia rather than the Delta variant,” he said.

The strain can still land people in the hospital.

Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abinsah Virk said since more people are getting Omicron, beds are filling faster even if a smaller proportion of those infected are getting hospitalized.

As for the future, Parlaj said Mayo Clinic has antiviral pills, and they’re effective. However, the hospital system doesn’t have many.

“At this point, for the next few weeks, we won’t have enough supply to turn around the Omicron surge,” he said.

Parlaj said it will take months to get an adequate supply, maybe not until June.

He said in the mean time, “Get vaccinated, get boosted, use masks, avoid crowded settings and hand hygiene.”

Even after more people get vaccinated and boosted, and there’s a steady supply of antiviral meds, Virk said COVID may still exist, though it could become similar to the flu.

“These viruses continue to form new variants,” she said. “And sort of like influenza, you know, we are protected influenza for the most part but there is always a little tweak to that influenza every year such that we need a vaccine.”

Virk added it’s still unclear whether people will need an additional booster in the coming months.

She also said those who are vaccinated or have previously had COVID-19 are likely to face milder symptoms if they get Omicron.

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