Betting against the severity of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is going against the odds, says a Medical Officer with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).
Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi says that while evidence suggests the Omicron variant is less likely to cause severe illness than previous COVID-19 strains, the numbers show that the variant's overall impact is anything but mild. That's because Omicron is several times more contagious than other strains.
“Even if a smaller proportion of infected people need medical attention, the sheer volume of cases is putting our health system under severe pressure," said Dr. Golmohammadi.
Hospitals in many regions – including BC – have been forced to postpone surgeries to free up beds and staff for the influx of COVID-19 patients.
However, Omicron's reputation for being mild has caused some people to let down their guard. In some cases, people are assuming it's easiest and best to get infected in the hopes of moving on from this latest wave of COVID-19.
But Dr. Golmohammadi says that is taking a gamble on several levels.
“You don't want to risk needing medical care when our health system is so stretched and you don't want to risk putting others at risk – like Elders or people who have compromised immune systems," he said. “Even missing a pay cheque due to being ill or having to isolate is a negative consequence for many."
Further, Dr. Golmohammadi says there is no certainty that anyone will only contract a mild case of COVID-19.
“Being fully vaccinated – with a booster dose when eligible – reduces the severity of a COVID-19 case for most people but there are no guarantees," he said. “There is also the risk of developing long COVID-19 – even in young, otherwise healthy people."
The World Health Organization reported last year that approximately one in four people who contracted COVID-19 had post-COVID-19 symptoms for at least a month and one in 10 had symptoms for more than 12 weeks.
Dr. Golmohammadi called on everyone to double down on preventive measures and not give way to resignation about COVID-19.
“We can protect ourselves, our family members and our communities by doing the things that are within our control," he said. “We can flatten the curve by reducing social contacts, upgrading face masks, and ensuring that we and our children are fully vaccinated – with a booster dose when eligible.
“We need to stick together and remember the words of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to be kind, be calm and be safe."