As the Omicron variant continues to sweep through the US, the number of people who haven’t yet caught the disease is dwindling. Many Americans left untouched are wondering not if they will get it, but when. Here’s the big question buzzing around: Should we be deliberately catching COVID-19 to get it over with?
It might seem like a good idea at first. Case numbers are sky-high, and contracting the virus seems to be guaranteed at this point — except that it’s not. The consequences of deliberately trying to catch Omicron are serious. But don’t take our word for it. We reached out to four medical experts to learn more.
COVID-19 variants, including Omicron, can still cause severe illness and death.
According to researcher and Angiogenesis Foundation President and Founder, William Li, MD, you won’t necessarily develop mild symptoms from any COVID-19 variant. “While the current Omicron variant seems to cause milder disease in people who are fully vaccinated and boosted, some people have more severe illness requiring hospitalization,” he says. “People are dying from Omicron every day. If you have any underlying conditions, getting COVID-19 might be lethal.”
Michael Blaivas, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Anavasi Diagnostics, points to statistics. “Yes, there is the notion out there that since Omicron has such mild symptoms, it is worth just getting the infection out of the way so one can move on with life,” he says. “[But] getting infected with Omicron is actually a bit like playing Russian roulette. Why the crazy analogy? While there is no doubt that deaths are down by as much as 90 percent with Omicron when compared to Delta, there are still deaths occurring and anyone infected does run the risk of dying.”
Indeed, the current daily average of US deaths is 2,466, and the daily average of hospitalizations is 153,306, per the New York Times. Hospital stays are not something to brush off, either. Patients hospitalized for COVID-19 could be charged thousands of dollars.
You can develop long-term symptoms.
Whether you experience serious or mild symptoms after deliberately catching COVID-19, you could develop long-haul COVID. Symptoms include severe brain-fog, extreme fatigue and shortness of breath. Worse yet, studies show that one in four people who contract the disease become long-haul sufferers.
“We still don’t know who will develop long COVID. So far, it’s unpredictable,” says Dr. Li. “It can happen in young, fit athletes as well as older people with chronic diseases. Some people have developed diabetes. Others have developed autoantibodies that can attack their organs. At its worst, long COVID can be crippling and so severe [that] it alters your life.”
You are putting immunocompromised people at risk.
Some people strongly believe that they will develop only a mild illness from Omicron, and many of those people are right. However, they aren’t thinking about the risk of spreading the disease to others who are far more vulnerable.
“While many people are experiencing milder cases with the Omicron variant, people with compromised immune systems continue to be scared for their lives — avoiding grocery store trips, staying away from family and friends, and hoping that those they do interact with are vaccinated and wearing masks,” says Tamara Ruggiero, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the American Kidney Fund. “People are understandably fatigued by the pandemic and the measures necessary to avoid COVID-19, but they should not ‘get it over with’ for a number of reasons, including out of consideration for the millions of people in the United States who are immunocompromised.
“People who have compromised immune systems, such as kidney transplant recipients and patients on dialysis, likely do not develop the same level of protection from the vaccines and are at higher risk of getting extremely sick from the virus. For example, one recent study found that vaccinated adults with chronic kidney disease and compromised immune systems had higher odds of severe COVID-19 outcomes.”
You are putting healthcare workers at risk.
We cannot deny the enormous strain that COVID-19 has placed upon the healthcare system. As more Americans get sick from Omicron, hospitals become more overwhelmed from the surge.
“Another consequence of spreading the virus to others is that one may spread the virus to those who work in high-risk settings, [or] congregate settings like nursing homes or hospitals,” says Erica Susky, an Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) published in Hospital Epidemiology. Susky believes that all of us have a responsibility to prevent the spread, for this and many other reasons.
In consideration of all of these factors, we should be doing our part in slowing the spread. Deliberately catching COVID-19 is never a good idea!