‘If you’re unvaccinated, you’re probably going to get the delta variant,’ Triad infectious disease expert says

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — He’s among the Piedmont Triad’s most recognized COVID authorities.

Just about every Thursday since the pandemic started, Dr. Chris Ohl, infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Health, has briefed reporters on the latest COVID numbers, treatments, mitigation efforts and vaccines.

He’s certainly qualified to do that. I’ve scanned over his curriculum vitae (it’s kind of like a resume). It’s more than 30 pages long.

One of his mentors in the early 1990s, while he was a resident physician and completing a fellowship at what is now the Walter Reed National Military Medical center, was Dr. Anthony Fauci.

He’s become such a visible figure the Winston-Salem Dash even produced and gave away Dr. Ohl Bobblehead Dolls earlier this year as a show of appreciation not only for Ohl but all health care providers on the front lines.

When he and I spent a little more than 30 minutes together recently, we spoke about multiple COVID-related topics.

His descriptions of the current COVID patients in local hospitals and his opinions on mask-wearing, you can watch in the video above.

Here are his comments on some other topics, some of which have been edited for brevity:

The delta variant

“If you’re unvaccinated, you’re probably going to get the delta variant at some point before all this is over. And so you have to choose how you’re going to become immune. You can get vaccinated, the odds of a bad thing happening are like between one in 10 per million people. I mean it’s so minuscule. But if you get the delta variant, even if you’re young, one in 50 might die. And that’s a real risk. So if you’re just going to measure it that way, how do you want to become immune? Pick the vaccine. It’s the wise choice.”

Masks in schools

“Right now in the Triad area, our 12- to 18-year-old group is about 30 percent vaccinated. That’s just not high enough. And it is not high enough to provide herd immunity for the unvaccinated cohort. So you’re going to get clusters of cases in schools if they’re unmasked both in the upper schools as well as the lower schools. Under 12 it’s a slam dunk.  They’re going to have to be masked because they can’t be vaccinated.” 

Could hospitals get overwhelmed given rising numbers?

“I think it’s unlikely for our hospitals to get overwhelmed. I think those days are behind us because we have a lot of our highest-risk people vaccinated (senior adults) and so they’re not getting hospitalized.”

Should mask mandates return?

“I tend to follow the number of cases per day, per a hundred thousand people. And once that gets above 25 and our test percentage levels get up to above 10 to 15, yeah, I would say we need to be wearing masks again. And I think we’re going to get close to that, if not above it.”

Where the vaccine percentages need to be in order to make a difference

“It’s probably around 80-85 percent. Now there are cohorts of people like the over 65 group (where we are) at 80 percent. There are some nursing homes that are 100 percent. So they can have a big sigh of relief.”

Concerns about getting myocarditis (swelling of the heart) from the vaccine

“Your odds of getting myocarditis from COVID are incredibly higher (than getting it) from the vaccine. So I’m not too concerned about it. Almost all the cases we’ve seen recovered fully.”

Concerns about getting Guillain-Barre symdrome from the J&J vaccine

“Guillain-Barre comes up with just about every vaccine. But your odds of getting Guillain-Barre following the flu are higher than getting it from the (flu) vaccine. It’s going to be the same way here.”

Concerns about vaccine side-effects

“Well, I’d much rather have a day of some achiness and fever and fatigue than 10 days of struggling to get air.”

Reasons to get vaccinated

“Number one is to protect yourself. Be selfish and protect yourself. Number two is to protect your loved ones who you live with. Number three is to have more of a normal life without worrying [about masks and social distancing]. Number four is to be a good citizen in your community. And for the younger kids, number five is that if you get exposed to COVID, you don’t have to spend 10 days with your parents doing virtual learning.”

To listen to Wake Forest Baptist Health COVID Podcasts and watch Ohl’s latest weekly media briefing, click here

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