Infectious Disease Specialist speaks on implications of Omicron surge

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The Omicron variant set records this month, breaking the all-time-high mark for new COVID-19 cases per day in Alabama. As we head into February, experts said the surge could see its plateau soon.

Huntsville Hospital Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ali Hassoun said, “If the South bends like the Northeast did with their surge of the variant, it could be about two weeks until healthcare professionals begin to breathe a sigh of relief.”

However, with the sheer rate of positive cases during this wave, Hassoun said he would not be surprised if we did see another wave in the future.

This is because each time the virus transmits, there is a chance for mutation. At this point, Hassoun said those mutations could go either way in terms of severity.

“There are the types the mutations may make it more efficient, more strong to transmit and cause a problem, but there are mutations that make it inefficient and less transmissible or less severe and less of an issue. So you hope and pray the virus will mutate in a way where it will make it less efficient but we cannot predict these things,” Hassoun said.

The hope for a less transmissible virus is even stronger, as hospitals continue to struggle with staffing, and numbers for COVID patients hospitalized statewide are on the rise.

“We have serious shortages in healthcare. Serious serious shortages in between nurses and staff and physicians. What that’s going to end up meaning — at the moment, it’s really stretched thin. If this continues, we may not be able to take care of patients.”

With so many either contracting the virus or getting vaccinated, the topic of her immunity has been brought back up:

“Herd immunity, we’ve heard it a lot, is it going to help? I think it can probably help temporarily, but I’ve seen people infected three times already. They’re not vaccinated and they believe they don’t need to be vaccinated, and they’ve got infected three times, the third time with Omicron,” he said. “It might help for a few weeks or a few months, but the issue is the virus gets mutated, so every time it gets mutated, that immunity is not going to be helpful anymore.”

It’s a cycle. People spread the virus, it mutates, which potentially makes us more susceptible to the mutation, and round it goes.

Hassoun’s advice is simple to avoid another surge like this one:

“Our part is really, reduce transmission, reduce infection rates as much as possible, to prevent and reduce mutation and try to get rid of the virus.”

He said to do that, it’s important to mitigate risk by following protection guidelines like masking up, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.

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