Americans Should Remain Cautious Ahead of ‘Covid Hell,’ Virus Adviser Says

News Monday that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and partner BioNTech has proved 90% effective at providing protection from Covid-19 may encourage people to begin adjusting plans for the spring, said epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who has been appointed as a coronavirus adviser to President-elect Joe Biden. But he warned that […]

News Monday that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and partner BioNTech has proved 90% effective at providing protection from Covid-19 may encourage people to begin adjusting plans for the spring, said epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who has been appointed as a coronavirus adviser to President-elect Joe Biden. But he warned that people still need to be very careful.

While the results bring the vaccine closer to getting approved for widespread use, Dr. Osterholm said, one big piece of information missing in the study is what the vaccine prevented—common cold-like symptoms or hospitalizations and deaths.

The U.S., meanwhile, is about to enter “Covid Hell” over the next three to four months, Dr. Osterholm said Monday.

“We could easily have 200,000 cases [a day] in just a few more weeks,” he said. “Even if this vaccine works really well, it’s not going to rescue us at all until next spring.”

Right now, he said, almost every state in the Midwest is losing control of the disease, and hospitals are being overrun as healthcare workers fall ill and burn out. The U.S. never got control of the virus, even when cases were at their lowest, he said.

The country has reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day for the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Total confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic started surpassed 10 million on Monday.

“Unless we suddenly have a major change in our behavior in this country and stop swapping air with each other, we’re going to see astronomical numbers,” said Dr. Osterholm, who is also the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“We’re going to look back in the not too distant future and say, ‘Oh, I could only wish we were back at 100,000 cases a day,’ ” he said. “We’re going to go much, much higher than the 100-plus thousand cases a day.”

On Monday, Mr. Biden unveiled a team of health experts and scientists who will advise the transition team on a plan for getting the coronavirus pandemic under control in the U.S..

Dr. Osterholm said he can’t speak about the team’s work, other than to say he is pleased that discussions are going on right now.

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