WASHINGTON (TND) — President Joe Biden has laid out his plan to curb the spread of COVID-19 now that the new omicron variant is running rampant.
He announced Tuesday that 500 million free at-home testing kits will be made available to Americans and troops are being deployed to overrun and understaffed hospitals.
But will the president’s plan work? Dr. Thomas Russo, a professor and the Chief of Infectious Disease at the University of Buffalo, tells The National Desk he thinks the administration’s new efforts will put the nation on the right path.
“I think it is going to help,” Russo said. “Having access to home testing kits has the potential to decrease the number of cases and break the transmission chain. Of course, this assumes that individuals test promptly when they develop symptoms and if the test is positive, they go ahead and isolate.”
He adds that the National Guard troops will be a big help to hospitals that are overwhelmed by cases of COVID, potentially helping save the lives of those also dealing with other illnesses.
“National Guard health care troops potentially could be very important for a number of regions in this country where hospitals are stretched thin due to the delta wave, with omicron piling on. Providers are exhausted,” Russo said. “We all know that when hospitals are stretched to the limit, outcomes are worse, not only for COVID cases but for non-COVID cases. So these troops will likely be deployed to those regions in greatest need and they'll be sorely welcomed.”
While omicron infections have been generally mild, according to the CDC, it was announced Monday that one person in Texas has died from the variant. Russo says it’s just too early to tell if the variant will cause more severe cases.
“To date, there are 12 deaths in the UK — which is a little ahead of us — and deaths tend to lag two to four weeks after we first see a rise in new cases,” he said. “However, even if it is much less virulent than delta — if we have a large number of cases — unfortunately, we still going to see some severe disease and some bad outcomes and those will likely occur in the unvaccinated.”
Medical experts say the unvaccinated are continuing to drive hospitalizations and death, but there have been many breakthrough cases. Russo says it’s typically those who have underlying conditions and he advises that they get boosted to increase protection.
“There are several groups under increased risk and those are those individuals that are immunocompromised or seniors, some individuals that have significant underlying diseases. These groups probably did not have an optimal response to vaccination. So they would greatly benefit from that third shot,” Russo says. “If they go ahead and we see that they will decrease their likelihood of a bad outcome 10-fold and developing serious disease 20-fold.”
With omicron spreading faster than delta, some wonder if another variant is on the way and if it’s possible that we will ever reach herd immunity.
“Omicron is extraordinarily infectious has been estimated to be believed to fold more transmissible than delta, which was extraordinarily infectious in of itself. So I think after this omicron wave, those individuals that are not vaccinated will likely have been affected either by omicron or previous variants that were circulating in our community,” Russo said.
While he’s not promising immunity, he says as more people get vaccinated, the virus will likely become more of a seasonal infection and it will be much more manageable.
“When we get to that stage where everyone has some degree of protection, we'll hopefully get out of this pandemic phase and enter the endemic phase where we have a low number of cases with perhaps intermittent bumps slightly in the winter season, similar to flu,” said Russo.