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Bay Area Health Experts Look Past Omicron, Envision Post-Pandemic COVID World

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Questions about what happens after the latest omicron surge have Bay Area health experts weighing in.

On Sunday, the U.S. surgeon general warned Americans that omicron has not yet peaked.

"I think the reality is most people are going to get COVID in their lifetime. I don't think most people need to get COVID within the next month," said former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, speaking on CBS Face the Nation.

Experts say if you can protect yourself for the next few weeks, the omicron wave will pass.

But the lack of easily-accessible, rapid at-home tests plus long lines for PCR tests and long delays to get results, have combined to make the goal of maximum protection hard to reach, as testing demand remains high.

"That started delaying the results of PCR tests from 24 hours to 48 to 72 to 96 and so, what the delay and testing is doing is perpetuating the search because it doesn't allow us to get a good handle on the virus and who's contagious with it," said Dr. John Swartzberg with the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

UCSF department of medicine chair Dr. Bob Wachter says the odds that an asymptomatic person in this country has COVID near the omicron peak is about 10%.

That means if you enter a room with 20 people, there's an 88% chance that one of them has COVID.

"I would much rather have my reckoning with COVID after I've been vaccinated a number of times, after there are orally available drugs widely accessible to treat this infection. After there's monoclonal antibodies, widely accessible to treat it," Gottlieb said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Monica Gandhi believes the omicron surge should lead public health officials' to change their approach from containment, to harm reduction and eventually to control of an "endemic" phase.

"What omicron did is cause an incredible wall of immunity. It means unvaccinated people got it, people who were vaccinated even got it. There was a lot of exposure and that led to a profound amount of immunity," Dr. Gandhi explained.

In an endemic phase, there would be no reporting of daily infections and no asymptomatic testing. Vaccinations and treatment with oral antivirals for people at risk of severe disease would continue.

"We also don't tell people to mask and distance anymore, because that really has to do with trying to keep it at bay but, when you go into an endemic phase, you treat it like influenza," Dr. Gandhi said.

According to Gandhi, masking indoors will likely continue, especially in the winter, even without mandates, similar to what so many countries have done before this pandemic.

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