Signs we may soon turn a corner on the omicron wave in the Boston area

“It’s looking more promising right now,” says Boston infectious diseases expert

There are some signs that the Boston area, and the rest of the state, will soon see the peak of the current omicron wave and be on the backside of variant now responsible for rising COVID cases and crowding local hospitals.

Dr. Paul Sax, the Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital spoke with Gene Lavanchy on Boston 25 Morning News on Wednesday.

The discussed current omicron trends from wastewater samples, infection rates, testing and the best masks.

Dr. Sax says “The models from multiple regions including first in South Africa, then in Europe, and now most recently New York City and here in Boston have suggested that it will peak sometime this month. I can’t say exactly when, but it’s looking more promising right now that we won’t be in this situation for very much longer.”

He also discussed wastewater sample from the MWRA that indicate changes are ahead and if those signals are reliable.

“Yes, it is quite reliable. Remember, wastewater concentrations are independent of whether people can get access to testing and now we have seen a pretty sharp decline in the last several days in the Boston area,” said Dr. Sax. “Usually, this means that case numbers are going to start dropping fairly soon. I should say also, there are settings where asymptomatic testing is done regularly, such as at universities and they also have reported in the last couple of weeks a decline in the number of positive tests. So, those are very favorable signals. I don’t want people to overreact to this because it’s not as if COVID is gone. The levels are still much higher than they were, for example, even a couple of months ago, but they are definitely better than they were about week or two ago.”

He also addressed the idea that omicron is running out of people to infect saying, “Yes, part of it is that. Part of it is undoubtedly behavioral change,” said Dr. Sax. “Remember, we just finished the holidays. The holidays are times when people get together. Sadly. people getting together can lead to more COVID transmission.”

He also had some advice on testing for COVID-19.

“I agree with the DPH recommendations, that people who have symptoms should get tested.  People who have had close contacts, I mean really close like a household contact, also it is recommended that you get a test,” said Dr. Sax. “The people who do not need a test are those who have already done an at-home test, and that test is positive. The home tests, when they are positive, are very accurate, especially if you’ve been testing yourself because you have symptoms.  There was some misleading information for a while that they needed a PCR to confirm the home test. that’s positive. That is actually not the case.”

Dr. Sax also talked about breakthrough cases, and questions people might have about getting the vaccine, when you may still get COVID anyway.

“That is an important misconception that we need to clear up,” said Dr. Sax. “The vaccines are still doing a remarkable job of preventing severe illness - illness that’s bad enough to require hospitalization. Right now, in the hospital, the sickest people with COVID-19 are those who’ve never been vaccinated, and people who are immuno-compromised. People who’ve been vaccinated and have been boosted are generally protected from hospitalization and that is a good thing and I strongly recommend that people get the vaccine if they haven’t done so already.”

Dr. Sax also gave some insight on mask use, given recent headlines about the effectiveness of certain masks.

“I would say more important is abandoning the cloth mask,” said Dr. Sax. “The data on the effectiveness of the cloth mask has always been very weak. Much better than that would be a standard surgical mask. It is true that KN95 or an N95 mask, is more protective. I would say that can be reserved for settings when your indoors in crowded settings you can’t control. But in general, I don’t think it’s going to be necessary for everybody.”

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