WHEN SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT...

No, You Shouldn't Catch COVID-19 on Purpose — Here Are 7 Reasons Why

Jan. 14, 2022 - Katie McCallum

The COVID-19 omicron variant seems like it's everywhere right now, and chances are you know someone — some people? — currently or recently sick with it.

In fact, it's starting to feel like catching COVID-19 is inevitable at this point — even Dr. Fauci says so. That may be causing you to question how committed you should continue to be to avoiding it.

Getting vaccinated (including the booster), wearing a mask and washing your hands are manageable asks, but — let's be real — continued efforts to avoid restaurants, parties, the gym and traveling feel more like sacrifices than inconveniences at this point. And with the number of people testing positive, it seems like the sacrifices you're making could end up in vain anyway.

Plus, the omicron variant is less severe, right?

Not so fast.

"If we all let our guards down — giving into the hopefully milder infection and the seeming inevitability of catching it eventually — we're adding fuel to the fire of letting this virus spread unchecked, which comes with consequences," says Dr. H. Dirk Sostman, chief academic officer of Houston Methodist.

Here are seven reasons you shouldn't let the "everyone is going to catch it anyway" mentality keep you from taking steps to stay safe from COVID-19 right now.

1. A mild case of COVID-19 can still be bad

You've probably heard that the omicron variant causes less severe disease — especially in people who are vaccinated and boosted.

"Mild is a relevant term, however," says Dr. Sostman. "Yes, omicron might be milder than the previous delta variant, but that doesn't mean mild COVID-19 can't cause substantial illness."

Mild symptoms of COVID-19 can still feel fairly miserable, ranging from fever, dry cough and nasal congestion to headache, fatigue and sore throat. Many of these symptoms last for days. Some linger for a few weeks.

Plus, getting COVID-19, even if you have no symptoms at all, still means isolating from other people for at least five full days — which can interrupt your work schedule, holidays and more.

And some people still get very sick with the omicron variant, even if they're vaccinated. Full hospitals and ICUs around the country are evidence of that.

"We're seeing fewer hospitalizations in this wave and vaccinated individuals certainly make up a smaller portion of what we are seeing, but that doesn't mean severe cases aren't happening," Dr. Sostman says.

2. There's likely no such thing as super immunity

"I may as well get it over with."

It's an easy mindset to have, but beware of the idea that "super immunity" might protect you from getting COVID-19 again in the future. A one-and-done approach to dealing with COVID-19 is a faulty one.

"We don't yet know what kind of immunity one gets from omicron, especially with mild or asymptomatic infection," says Dr. Sostman. "As with other variants, it's very possible that even someone who is vaccinated, boosted and had COVID-19 could still catch it again in the future. You may be done with COVID-19, but it may not be done with you."

3. Maintaining precautions helps ensure that, even if you do get COVID-19, you catch a lower amount of virus

A viral infection is a race between the virus continuing to replicate and your immune system rousing its defenses.

Dr. Sostman says, "So why allow the invader to land more troops?"

Remaining committed to masks, social distancing and proper hand hygiene ensures that even if you're exposed to COVID-19 and even if it makes inroads despite your precautions, you'll get a smaller dose of the virus — giving your immune system more time and a better chance to mount a strong defense.

4. Anyone can experience post-COVID syndrome

Since the early months of the pandemic, doctors have worked to understand post-COVID syndrome (also called long COVID), in which a subset of people who've "recovered" from COVID-19 go on to experience symptoms for another six months — or longer.

The most common long COVID symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Brain fog, including an inability to concentrate and impaired memory
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Sleep issues

"With previous variants, we've seen post-COVID syndrome occur in people with mild and severe illness alike, so having mild illness doesn't mean you're not at risk for developing these long-term symptoms," says Dr. Sostman.

Since it's currently still unclear whether the omicron variant can also cause more or less post-COVID syndrome, why tempt fate?

5. You could get someone else really sick

Omicron is very contagious, so catching it means you may well spread it someone before you know you have it.

That someone could be more vulnerable to developing severe illness than you — such as someone who's severely immunocompromised or fully vaccinated but still at high risk for severe disease.

That someone could also be a child under five who's not yet eligible for vaccination.

"You could also make someone who is unvaccinated sick, which not only has implications for that person's health but can also further stress an already overtaxed health care system," warns Dr. Sostman. "Unvaccinated adults are making up the majority of COVID-19 hospitalization right now."

6. Uncontrolled spread will tax our healthcare system

While it is true that you may eventually get COVID-19, the more of us that get it all at once — right now, for instance — the harder it becomes for our hospitals to function optimally.

"Hospitalizations are already high across the country," warns Dr. Sostman. "If we allow ourselves to relax our COVID-19 precautions even more, our hospitals and health care workers are going to become overwhelmed."

This doesn't just affect COVID-19 care. It could interrupt care for people with medical emergencies or whose chronic health conditions haven't disappeared just because we're in a surge.

7. More infection increases the chance of further variants

Before omicron, there was delta. Before delta there was, alpha.

But what about after omicron?

"The viral mutations that lead to new variants are a numbers game, and we don't want to play to the virus' advantage by letting it spread unchecked," warns Dr. Sostman.

The more we let this virus spread, even if it's mostly causing just mild disease, the likelier it becomes that we come up against another variant — maybe one that's even harder to handle. How bad would it be if the next variant is as contagious as omicron but also more lethal? Really bad, of course.

"For instance, omicron has shown that it's able to break through vaccination better than delta," explains Dr. Sostman. "In addition, two of our most common monoclonal antibody therapies are ineffective against this new variant."

Omicron's mutations make dealing with this virus harder in some ways, and we don't know what might be next. Let's try to not find out!

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