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Don’t try to get COVID

‘You’d be crazy to try to get infected with this!’

CHICAGO --- As omicron spreads across the country, some have wondered if they should just expose themselves to the coronavirus and get it over with. 

Don’t do it, say Northwestern Medicine experts.

“You’d be crazy to try to get infected with this,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Murphy and other Northwestern Medicine experts explain why that strategy is high risk for you, public health and the economy. They also discuss population immunity, and whether it’s inevitable that you will contract COVID-19.

Why you DON’T want to get COVID-19

Dr. Murphy:

“It’s like playing with dynamite. Who needs that risk?" Murphy said. “One of my patients over 65 — who was vaccinated and boosted and had multiple medical problems — contracted COVID-19, was admitted to the hospital and, fortunately, did very well. Another patient — over 65, vaccinated and boosted and with no underlying risk factors — is in the hospital right now and doing poorly. That’s why you don’t want to mess with omicron and get infected. That is craziness.” 

“People have called me and said, ‘Why don’t I just go out and get it?’ But you don’t know about the long-term effects of this thing, even if you’ve been vaccinated. Some people are genetically predisposed to having worse disease. It’s not worth the risk.”

Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine 

“The sense of hopelessness about stopping transmission is fueled by all of the reports referring to omicron as mild,” Carnethon said. “A more precise definition is that there appears to be less lung damage with infection from omicron and vaccinated people tolerate it very well. However, with rates of hospitalizations rising, there are a great number of people who aren’t doing well with this ‘mild’ variant. The vast majority of those people hospitalized are unvaccinated; however, some of those cannot be vaccinated or are immune compromised. Thus, the impact is substantial.”

People are losing income over omicron spread

“I was in a testing center next to a woman crying because she wasn’t going to be paid if she couldn’t go back to work because she was positive,” Carnethon said. “People who are paid by the hour are losing income over the spread of omicron. The social and economic implications are substantial and potentially damaging as people lose their livelihoods for short periods of time. The reduction of isolation time can help mitigate the economic devastation, but this is a public health crisis that will quickly become an economic crisis given the large number of affected people.”

Are we all just going to get COVID-19?

Murphy: “It is likely COVID-19 will end up being similar to the flu, and ultimately everybody will get it. Hopefully, as with flu, it will evolve to a less virulent form. It is likely we will never get rid of coronaviruses and the disease that it causes. The pandemic at some point will evolve into an endemic state. Controlling this infection will entail a modified vaccine every year to better match new variants, plus the immunity people get from having actual disease.” 

How to stay safe

Murphy advises: “Get an N-95 mask or wear double surgical masks, stay three- to-six feet away from other people. Cloth masks must have multiple layers, and even though they are not as effective, they do give some protective effect. Make sure everyone takes a rapid COVID-19 test prior to an event or meeting with others, even if you are going to be maskless with a small group of vaccinated, boosted people.”