Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said he’s “feeling optimistic” about the Omicron surge of COVID-19, but warns other variants are coming and the risk of another worldwide pandemic will eventually test the resolve of public health officials again.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Patterson said Arkansas’ case numbers and hospitalization rates have been falling in recent weeks, and that’s the source of his optimism.
“I’m feeling optimistic that we have clearly turned the corner on the Omicron surge, which has been the hardest surge on our healthcare system here in the state of Arkansas. You know, we continue to see the downward trend,” he said.
“So the trends are all going in the right direction. But at the same time, we’ve had almost 11,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the state of Arkansas. We’ve had a lot of serious stressors to our healthcare systems, and the problem is not completely going away. So we may be starting to see the beginning of the end here, or at least the transition from COVID-19 to an endemic from pandemic situation, and turning it into a seasonal respiratory virus but we’re not there yet,” Patterson added.
UAMS officials predict more variants of the novel coronavirus that has plagued Arkansas, the U.S. and the world for more than two years. Patterson said with the level of recoveries from the illness and those vaccinated, he expects future strains to be less severe.
“There’s enough community protection that it’s getting harder and harder for each new strain to create a beachhead here in the state of Arkansas. Now, as long as the virus continues to circulate, it’s gonna continue to mutate and will continue to have new strains, but hopefully there’s enough protection in the community that each successive surge from new strains that appear, here in Arkansas, will be less and less and less. So, you know, it’s sort of like a wave that ripples down over time. We don’t know that for sure, we don’t have a crystal ball, but our best predictions are suggesting that that’s what the future holds for us,” he said.
Patterson said scientists are working on vaccines that may combine protections from COVID-19 strains, RSV and seasonal influenza into one shot. That could make protection an annual vaccine shot against respiratory viruses.
The UAMS chief says that the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be a focus for significant studies. New research has suggested various levels of after-effects for survivors ranging from heart conditions to brain functionality. Patterson said it’s too early to tell how severe and long-lasting some outcomes may be.
“I think that we’re only beginning to learn about the long term effects of COVID-19. You know, we just learned this week that even mild infection with COVID-19 has a long term impact on brain function. You know, it’s likely that COVID-19 will have effects that last years or potentially even decades of time,” he said. “Even if COVID-19 went away tomorrow, we’re going to be dealing with COVID-19 and its impact on the people who’ve been infected for decades to come.”
You can watch Dr. Patterson’s full interview in the video below.