Even for those who have been cautious, the cycle of hope for a return to normalcy followed by disappointment from the surge in cases has become infuriating.
But there is hope on the horizon. CNN spoke with Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, who discussed what the United States can expect following the pandemic and why we must continue to work hard to keep the virus under control.
This conversation has been edited and slightly condensed for clarity.
CNN: How does the healthcare community think the future of Covid-19 will be?
Dr. Jonathan Reiner: In the short term, I think January is going to be a tough month, and we’re essentially in a race to see what happens first – whether the Omicron surge peaks or it depletes our ability to serve people in hospitals. Our hospitals are full of patients and, at the same time, staff are getting sick.
We believe that the rise of Omicron will be relatively short-lived if the experience in South Africa and the experience in the United Kingdom is a harbinger of things to come in the United States. If you look at today’s data in London, it appears that cases are starting to decline.
If we continue to track the UK as we have in the past, I think in some parts of the country, particularly the places where Omicron struck first, we should start to see a spike sometime in the next two weeks.
The short term will be challenging and our hospitals will continue to fill up with patients. We will go back to the kind of balance we were in in the spring of 2020, and then the cases will start to decline.
Fortunately, it appears that the severity of the disease overall is a bit less with Omicron than with the other variants, but still the large number of people entering the hospital and the number of hospital staff now falling ill will make make the next few weeks very challenging.
CNN: What’s the long-term prognosis?
Reiner: There is reason to believe that once this wave begins to subside, cases will continue to decline. The question is: Will there be another wave? Will there be another variant that is taking hold? That is not clear.
I think the short term will be a challenge, but we will overcome it. Many people are still optimistic that perhaps by spring we will be in a much better place.
CNN: How should people adjust their approach when it comes to work, school, entertainment, and travel in the short term?
Reiner: I think we are experiencing the hottest moment of this pandemic. This is the highest viral load this country has seen during this pandemic. Pretending that everything is open and that we are going to take care of our business does not make sense to me.
(We need) to tell the public that the next few weeks are going to be tough, but we’re going to get through it, and to help us get through it, everyone should wear a mask wherever we go and we want people to. work from home whenever they can.
It’s hard to imagine continuing to pack people into theaters. The idea that bars are open in New York City is crazy to me. Our leadership has been unwilling to basically tell people that they have to do difficult things.
CNN: Many experts have said that the pandemic probably won’t go away completely, but it will turn into a nuisance. Is that still likely?
Reiner: I think eventually that’s where it will settle.
There’s technology on the horizon to basically make this go away, and that’s called a coronavirus vaccine. There are several labs working on this.
There was a proof-of-concept document that came out of Duke (University) earlier this year that has demonstrated the ability to create a vaccine that is effective against all current, past, and even future coronavirus variants. I think that is where the hope lies in terms of ending this pandemic.
Most people hope that we will have an endemic virus with us for an indefinite future that we will have to learn to live with and mitigate its effects. Vaccines will basically allow us to coexist with this virus, preventing us from getting seriously ill in the event of contracting it. And then we will learn to live with this in the same way that we learned to live with the flu.