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“Let me say this: There will be an end,” Dr. Patrice Harris, former president of the American Medical Association, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “I do believe, as many public health officials and physicians believe, that we will get to the point where this is endemic, and we think about this just like we think about the flu. We had the flu season and we have flu campaigns. We want everyone to get vaccinated, so that will happen.”
For that to happen, Harris added, the country still needs to take the right steps to mitigate the spread of this highly transmissible strain since the pandemic “won’t end magically or on its own.”
“Really, it’s all about using all tools in the toolbox and not forgetting one and not becoming enamored with one,” Harris said. “It is masking. It is testing from the very beginning.”
'We should not be letting up' amid Omicron
Another key piece to the puzzle is ensuring that more Americans get vaccinated and boosted. Currently, 63.2% of the U.S. is fully vaccinated, 75.3% have received at least one dose, and just 39.3% have gotten their booster shots.
Much like flu shots, COVID vaccines don’t prevent viral infection entirely, but they do provide significant protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
Those who are unvaccinated are as much as 20 times more likely to die and 17 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, which is likely contributing to the massive surge in hospitalizations across the U.S. For this reason, Harris has pushed back against the idea of relaxing restrictions just yet.
“We had the Delta surge, and now we have the Omicron surge,” Harris said. “I’m uncomfortable with using words like ‘letting up.’ As a physician, a former public health official, I think we need to actually keep our feet on the gas pedal to use another metaphor. Certainly Omicron is less deadly, more transmissible, but still, we have thousands of people dying every day. So we should not be letting up.”
'We need to make sure to be a bit more proactive'
Testing has improved throughout the country now that the Biden administration has directed insurers to reimburse their customers for the cost of eight at-home COVID tests per covered individual per month.
The administration also enabled Americans to receive four COVID tests a month through the U.S. Postal Service.
Additionally, the CDC has released guidance about the most protective types of masks to wear, N95 and KN95 masks, which are said to be significantly more effective than cloth masks or even surgical masks.
“Certainly we applaud the Biden administration for doing what it can to get the testing out, the mask out,” Harris said. “Because from the very beginning of this pandemic, it seems that we would, as a country, focus on one thing. We might be focused on masks or we might be focused on testing even though from the very beginning, we didn’t have the testing capacity.”
She added that the country has "been behind the eight ball on testing since the beginning,” she added. “And they’re getting it right on masks. And funding is the right thing to do.”
These measures are necessary to ensure COVID becomes endemic and manageable like the flu, according to Harris. Otherwise, the virus can keep mutating into variants that could potentially evade vaccines.
“I’ve said this virus gets an A-plus at doing what viruses do — viruses mutate,” Harris said. “You can’t predict how they will mutate. But we know that viruses do mutate. That’s why we need to make sure to be a bit more proactive.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at email@example.com.