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Even amid overwhelmed hospitals and omicron surge, health care leaders offer cautious optimism

Doctors say it’s too early to say whether omicron will push us to the next stage of the pandemic.

MINNEAPOLIS — At a moment when omicron is overwhelming state hospitals and cases are surging, some medical leaders say there’s cautious hope this variant could eventually lead us to the next stage of the pandemic.

“It’s much more likely than previous variants to have an end point,” said Dr. James Miner, chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin Healthcare.

On Friday, the Minnesota Hospital Association released a statement urging Minnesotans to seek COVID-19 testing at sites other than emergency departments, saying: “We have run out of words to describe what we are undergoing – a crisis does not even come close; hospitals are literally full.”

Miner agreed with that statement, noting: “It is true. I’ve been an emergency physician since 1996, and I saw the most patients that I’ve ever seen in my career on Wednesday of this week.”

But Miner noted that very detail — the infectious nature of the omicron variant — may help push us from pandemic to endemic.

“If there’s a good side to being more contagious, it’s that it’s spreading very, very quickly. More and more people are now are going to at least have some more immunity,” he said, noting that vaccines offer a much safer approach to controlling COVID-19.

“All of the people I see who are very, very sick — whether it’s through delta or omicron — haven’t been vaccinated yet,” he said, adding, “I just can’t emphasize enough how important it is for everyone to get vaccinated.”

During an update on the state’s COVID situation, health officials offered a more sobering response. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann say they can’t conclusively predict how omicron will play out in Minnesota.

“Certainly, it’s a credible theory of how the disease might progress. But it’s awfully early to be really banking on it,” Malcolm said.

“When we are in a situation like we are right now with omicron — with very, very high number of cases that we’re experiencing — I think we have to be a little bit cautious of thinking ‘endemic,’” Ehresmann said, noting that the move to “endemic” may give people a false sense of security and a belief they can drop their guard.

And when it comes to still urging cooperation from the community, Miner more than agrees.

“It’s a great time to be hopeful, but it’s not a great time to stop trying. So get everyone vaccinated and do what you can to prevent spread,” he said.

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