We've heard how the Omicron variant of COVID is causing mostly mild symptoms. With public health officials sounding the alarm about the urgent need to get vaccinated and boosted, some experts warning about COVID overloading the hospitals and schools being shut down, it can seem like confusing mixed messages.
The warning is really about the domino effect of Omicron spreading fast with milder symptoms, combined with Delta spread. It's a recipe for the perfect storm that is already causing hospital surges and school closures.
Many hospitals across the U.S. are facing a surge of COVID patients. St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Pontiac, Michigan, is among them.
"We started our day with almost 30 people that have been in the ER since yesterday that are waiting for beds upstairs that we don't have available, and then we still have people coming through the door," said emergency room nurse Dana Nowacki.
The staff at the hospital meets three times a day to handle surgeries and COVID patients flowing into the ER.
"They wish they would have gotten their vaccine. They wish they would have went to get their boosters," said Nowacki.
Booster numbers in the U.S. are low and studies show they're really needed. Two Pfizer doses are only 33% effective against Omicron. Experts think about 80% of the public is susceptible to infection because Omicron spreads two to three times faster than Delta.
"It is the most transmissible virus of COVID that we had to deal with thus far. It has a doubling time of about three days," said Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Andy Slavitt, a former COVID senior adviser for President Biden, put it this way: "In the time between Christmas and New Year's, you are looking at Omicron cases jumping from 100,000 to 400,000."
Another factor is that experts fear people may power through mild symptoms and still go out into the community, potentially spreading the virus. Early research shows while it's much lower than Delta, Omicron is still sending people to the hospital — mostly those who are unvaccinated. On top of that, we still have Delta. We'll eventually see one variant overtake the other, but initially, we could see both Omicron and Delta spreading.
"It depends on which variant is circulating in the community and how severe the illness is that results from it," said Dr. Jim Neid, infectious disease specialist at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Colorado.
That is where vaccinated versus unvaccinated, or boosted versus not, comes into play. The latest science continues to show that two doses don't protect you from getting sick, but are more likely to keep symptoms mild. Unvaccinated or natural immunity is medically the worst option.
"With the unvaccinated cases, we're seeing that it's much harder for them to come off the vent, and at times they're on the highest settings. And their body, in terms of organs, we call it multi-organ failure — they start depending more and more. And once they reach that point, it's hard to wean them off just because of how sick they can be," said Claire Diaz, ICU Nurse and St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in Michigan.
It's a reality they sound the alarm about as Omicron spreads nationwide.