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KPCC: California’s New (Again) Mask Mandate, New Study on Effects of Omicron Variant and More

KPCC show AirTalk recently spoke with Sam Torbati, MD, co-chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, for the show’s daily update on recent COVID-19 developments.

Torbati expressed cautious optimism about data from South Africa suggesting that, while the omicron variant first identified there appears more infectious and less vulnerable to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than previous variants, it also appears less lethal.

"For folks that are not vaccinated, this could still be a big issue," Torbati told host Larry Mantle. He noted that 80% of South Africa’s population has previously been infected with COVID-19, according to some estimates, and could have natural protection against the new variant. But omicron could behave differently in the U.S., where fewer people have experienced native infection, and Torbati said it's unclear how much protection might be conferred to someone who had a previous COVID-19 illness from a variant other than omicron.

Torbati said omicron could take over as the dominant variant here within the next month, and that Cedars-Sinai is preparing for an increase in cases and an influx of patients. Even though fully vaccinated individuals could develop a mild case of COVID-19, Torbati stressed that the vaccine and boosters are safe and current data suggests they offer significant protection against severe disease.

In addition to getting vaccinated and sticking with preventive COVID-19 measures, he recommended good nutrition and adequate sleep to stay healthy.

"No one's willing to shut down again and stop living," he told Mantle. "We need to figure out how to live with this and use all the tools available to us. And right now, our most powerful tools are vaccination, boosters, and in certain environments, masking."

Click here to listen to the complete interview from KPCC.