A top epidemiologist who has advised President Joe Biden on the COVID-19 pandemic says it’s time Americans accept that the country is starting to enter a fourth surge of the coronavirus. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said that as far as the world is concerned, “we really are in a Category 5 hurricane status,” and the next few weeks will see a surge in cases around the world. And the reality will start to become evident to Americans soon. “In terms of the United States, we’re just at the beginning of this surge,” Osterholm said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We haven’t even really begun to see it yet.”
Previous surges have followed a familiar pattern across the country, and that now appears to be repeating. “We’re now, I think, in that cycle where the Upper Midwest is just now beginning to start this fourth surge,” he said. When Michigan reported 8,400 new cases yesterday, “it was a wake-up call to everyone,” particularly because of the rising number of severe cases for people who are between 30 and 50.
Osterholm was critical of the way people in the United States seem to be ignoring the risks posed by the new, more infectious variants of the virus. That lack of concern is at least in part due to the way in which U.S. leaders are not pushing to take the threat seriously. “We are the only country in the world right now experiencing this increasing number of cases due to this variant and at the same time opening up, not closing down,” he said on Fox News Sunday. “The two basically are going to collide, and we are going to see substantially increased number of cases.” Osterholm recognized that may not be what people want to hear, “but the bottom line message of the virus is it’s going to do what it’s going to do, and we are going to have to respond somehow.” Of particular concern, Osterholm said, is how the new variants make children much more vulnerable to infection. “Please understand, this B.1.1.7 variant is a brand-new ballgame,” he said. “In fact, right here in Minnesota, we’re now seeing the other aspect of this B.1.1.7 variant that hasn’t been talked much about, and that is the fact that it infects kids very readily.”
Others, however, are more optimistic that a fourth wave can be avoided. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that while young people are driving a new rise of infections in a few areas, that doesn’t mean there will be a fourth wave, due to increasing vaccination. “You have somewhere around 200 million Americans that have some level of immunity in them already,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “I think there’s enough immunity in the population that you’re not going to see a true fourth wave of infection.”