UW virology chief: Not yet at the top of the omicron in Washington state

In Washington state, at least in the local population that UW Medicine cares for, it’s not yet safe to say that cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 have peaked. Dr. Keith Jerome, head of UW Virology, told Seattle’s Morning News it was still too early to know.

“We are not yet getting as many cases as some parts of the country. Our positivity rates are higher than they have ever been, and most of them are omicron. So hopefully that peak comes soon, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

Dr Jerome noted that recent cases identified in the area are around 90% omicron, but the delta is still clinging on.

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As for protection against omicron, he says it’s true that masks are still effective, isolation is effective, and cases are mostly mild in vaccinated people, but that’s something worrying.

“It seems to be a milder disease. One thing that’s complicated then is that most people who are getting omicron now, most of the population have been vaccinated or have had COVID. So by definition the cases will be milder,” he said.

“It is very reasonable to continue to take the same precautions. We should all do this,” he added. “Let’s try not to understand that. One thing people forget is that even though this is a milder disease, at UW Medicine we have more patients in the hospital than ever before, across any part of that. So the hospitals are overflowing. »

He says that means if you arrive with a broken arm, heart attack or stroke, it’s harder to get treatment.

“Our frontline suppliers are doing an amazing job of trying to stay ahead of all of this, and they work so hard,” he said. “But if we can go back to that idea to kind of flatten the curve, remember that from the start? If we can do that and just slow it down, to save room in the hospital for all the other things that happen in human life, that would be fantastic.

Dr. Jerome also acknowledges that none of the prevention strategies — like masks or distancing — are perfect, but that was never the goal.

“None of these things are perfect. We’ve said the science has been very consistent on this,” he said. “And there’s a tendency to try to black and white everything.”

At first, he recalled, it was said that a mask served more to protect others. It’s never been a guarantee that you won’t get infected if you wear a mask, but it does help.

“Vaccines are not perfect,” he added. “They fight to keep you from getting infected, for example. They’re really, really good at keeping you out of the hospital, but they’re not perfect. All of these things are things we can do to slow the rate of infection.

Alternatively, says Dr Jerome, we could have an ‘omicron party’ tomorrow and instead of a million cases, we can have 10 million cases at the same time ‘and no one will be able to get into the hospital’.

“Yeah, it stinks what we have to do, I get that,” he said. “On the other hand, I think a lot of life has been, for many of us, a semblance of going back to the pre-pandemic days. OK, we wear a mask, but not all of us are sitting at home all the time now is a sensible way to minimize risk, while living a meaningful and rich life.

To help those who are still at great risk, such as doctors, teachers and young children who cannot be vaccinated, Dr Jerome says this is where we need to “stick together as a community”.

“There are a variety of things we can do to learn to live with this virus,” he added. “It’s not going away, and anyone who tells you that we’re going to be living in a truly post-COVID world is probably not going to equalize you. These viruses are now endemic and we’re going to be living with them one way or another for a very long time. long time.

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“A level that we tolerate as a society”

Going forward, it is impossible to know if there will continue to be more impactful variants of COVID-19 in the near future. In the long term, COVID is different from the flu and is a different virus, as Dr. Jerome noted, but beyond the virological aspects, it may be more like the flu in terms of its effect on us.

“Maybe it’s more like the flu and we have waves every year, and some years are worse than others,” he said. “But it’s at a level that we can tolerate as a society. Many people are dying from the flu, and it is a tragedy for the individuals and families affected, and yet society continues.

“That’s probably something we’re going to have here,” he continued. “But we need to take it to a more controlled level, and we need to have a broader conversation about what it is. Omicron encouraged in this regard that it is a milder disease, but are there any guarantees that you could not have a new highly infectious and clinically serious variant? Of course, that’s a concern.

Listen to both parts of Dr. Keith Jerome’s interview on Seattle’s Morning News podcast below:

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5-9am on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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