Expert urges new national strategy to "coexist with COVID"

  • In Politics
  • 2022-01-10 17:06:00Z
  • By CBS News

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow across the country - with an alarming number of children being hospitalized in recent days - some experts are calling for a new approach to fight the pandemic.

One of those experts, Dr. Céline Gounder, joined "CBS Mornings" on Monday to explain why she's urging the Biden administration to update its national strategy for a "new normal" of life with COVID-19.

"We're going to have to coexist with COVID," she said.

The epidemiologist and infectious disease expert co-authored a letter published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association outlining the proposal, which would not include the eradication or elimination of the virus.

Some of the key measures described in the letter include vaccination, wearing N95 or KN95 masks, improving ventilation and air filtration, and testing to figure out who's contagious and who's not, and who needs treatment. The goal, Gounder said, is to save lives and prevent hospitalizations.

"And how do we do that safely, where people are not ending up in the hospital, where our hospital system is not buckling under the weight of all of those COVID cases as it is now?" Gounder said Monday.

Meanwhile, signs suggest the Omicron variant may hit the U.S. harder than in other countries. The number of reported daily cases topped 800,000 on one day last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That does not include those who tested positive with at-home tests or have mild symptoms and never got tested at all.

Gounder noted that the number of hospitalizations includes children and adults who tested positive while being treated for another medical condition.

"Everybody who comes into the hospital gets tested because we need to sort out who needs to be in a COVID room versus a regular room. So everybody's getting a test," Gounder said. "And just because there's so much of it out there in the community, you're going to have some people who come in, you know, a kid with a broken arm who just happens to have COVID.

"This is something that epidemiologists, statisticians are trying to dig into to figure out how much of this is truly Omicron causing bad lung disease versus you just happen to have it," she said.

Despite a recent increase in breakthrough cases, Gounder said most of those infections tend to be "much less severe" compared to patients who are unvaccinated. About one-third of Americans still have not received a single vaccine shot, according to the CDC.

"Yes, we are seeing breakthrough infections even in people who are boosted, but they're like the common cold. They're not landing you in the hospital. These are not people we're having to put on a ventilator," she said, noting that doctors consider a case severe if a patient needs supplemental oxygen. 

"So you might feel awful, but you're not requiring that extra oxygen," she said.

Gounder also said the expression "learn to live with COVID," can be problematic because it could lead people to let their guard down. The discussion of a new national strategy, she said, needs to start by looking into the response to past outbreaks of viral respiratory diseases.

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