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Breaking Four Omicron Myths As Illinois Breaks Record For Coronavirus Hospital Admissions

The highly infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 infects more than 31,000 Illinois residents every day. Vaccines and boosters have been shown to be very effective at keeping people away from the state’s flooded hospitals, but more and more groundbreaking cases are being reported.

If the test feeling is positive, which is almost inevitable for many residents, why not lose your vigilance and get a supposedly mild infection out of the way?

Because at a crucial moment in the pandemic, you’d endanger the state’s most vulnerable residents – and Omicron can still deal a brutal blow, says Dr. Mark Loafman, Cook County Health Specialist.

When Illinois public health officials reported another record high of 7,380 hospitalized COVID patients on Thursday and the second worst daily death toll in a year at 142, Loafman urged residents not to latch onto the baseless feeling that it was they might get infected to boost their natural immunity.

“That feeling of inevitability that a lot of people have, that feeling of reassurance that they know people who are infected with the virus and who are fine in the end, it’s understandable, but it’s a false sense of security,” said Loafman, a specialist in community medicine. “I routinely sign death certificates. It’s still a big deal. “

Here’s a look at some of the myths surrounding the most contagious variety to date – and why it’s so important to dispel now that Illinois health system is thinner than ever:

Myth: Omicron causes lighter infections so I might as well get it now.

Early research suggests that Omicron generally doesn’t cause as serious illness as Delta or some other earlier variants, “but it’s a numbers game,” warned Loafman – and those numbers are still skyrocketing.

Dr. Mark Loafman, Chair of Family and Community Medicine at Cook County Health. Provided by Cook County Health

The state reported 37,048 new cases of the disease on Thursday, more than double the high water mark of previous spikes, and officials say it’s too early to tell if we’ve peaked.

“There is always a certain proportion of people who get seriously ill. Even if the ratio is smaller, the number of people who end up in the hospital is huge because of the number of cases, ”Loafman said.

As a result, “we are almost overwhelmed,” he said. Almost 1,200 COVID patients were in intensive care units across the country on Wednesday night, approaching records from previous increases. The vast majority of the newcomers are unvaccinated people, officials said.

“You may be lucky enough not to have a bad case, and the odds are if you are young, healthy, and vaccinated. But we see many people, mostly unvaccinated, who are sick in the hospital for three to four weeks, followed by the unknowns from long COVID still under investigation. It’s not safe, ”said Loafman.

Myth: Omicron is like chickenpox – better get it now so I’ll be immune.

This outdated strategy – long known as medically negligent since the introduction of the highly effective chickenpox vaccine – would do far more harm than good, especially because COVID-19 mutates so quickly.

A person’s natural immunity who has recovered from COVID has been shown to last only a few months, a fact confirmed by some of Loafman’s patients and colleagues who have been infected three times since the pandemic broke out.

Sister Alma Abad examined a 59-year-old patient with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last week.

Sister Alma Abad examined a 59-year-old patient with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side last week. Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

The deliberate spread of an already rampant disease would pose an even greater threat to the immunocompromised and the elderly, who are more susceptible to serious illness.

“We would quickly get back to the point of the way in which this virus mutates and new variants emerge. It’s a light-hearted, towel-thrown approach that is unjustified and unhelpful. It’s absolutely harmful, ”said Loafman.

Myth: Omicron will help us achieve herd immunity.

Until more people around the world are vaccinated – including Illinois, where 21.7% of eligible residents still haven’t received a vaccination – herd immunity is a pipe dream, experts say.

That’s because the virus mutates rapidly while regenerating billions of times around the world, sometimes resulting in more transmissible variants like Omicron. In addition, natural immunity is short-lived.

“Those are the two things that screwed it up,” Loafman said of the prospect of herd immunity. “Measles, chickenpox, polio – these are very stable viruses, one and the same, you get your vaccination, you have immunity, that’s it.

“COVID doesn’t work like that. It will mutate and immunity will wane and we will go through one increase at a time until more people are vaccinated. It’s the only way out, ”he said.

Myth: I am vaccinated and vaccinated so I have less to worry about.

It is just as important as ever that people follow basic pandemic precautions – especially getting vaccinated and booster – to keep the state’s hospitals from being completely overrun.

Even in strengthened residents with so-called “superimmunity” after a breakthrough case, this additional immunity will only last a few months. Masking and social distancing are still important.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr.  Allison Arwady, adjusts her face mask on Tuesday as she speaks at a press conference at town hall to announce a return to an indoor masking mandate last August.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, adjusts her face mask on Tuesday while speaking at a press conference at town hall to announce a return to an indoor masking mandate last August. Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

“You will probably get along just fine [if you get a breakthrough case], but you will take a few people with you and help spread the word. Not that much, but still some, ”said Loafman.

His words were tougher for local residents who chose not to roll up their sleeves.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, and that’s rash, it’s up to you. You will take other people with you, ”he said. “It’s just wrong.”

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