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VERIFY: Johns Hopkins doctor addresses claims about omicron infection, transmission, masks

John Hopkins Senior Scholar, Dr. Amesh Adalja says COVID-19 omicron cases are expected to peak in the U.S. soon.

HOUSTON — The VERIFY team is working hard to make sure you have the facts when it comes to the fast-spreading omicron variant.

There are claims being made that suggest cases have already peaked.

We took some of those claims to Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Claim: The omicron variant is just a cold with a different name.

False: Dr. Adalja said, “Though the omicron variant can cause symptoms that are exactly like the common cold. The common cold isn't a specific virus. It’s more of a syndrome that can be caused by many different viruses. And while it's true that coronaviruses cause about 25% of our common colds, it's not the same thing. Omicron could cause a common cold, but they're not the same thing because omicron can also cause severe disease as well.”

Claim: A COVID cough is similar to a cough you would have with the common cold.

True: Dr. Adalja said, “The coughing with COVID-19 omicron, with any respiratory virus, is very hard to distinguish from any other. That's why those types of symptoms should prompt testing.”

Claim: Omicron cases have peaked in the United States.

False: Dr. Adalja said, “We have not yet reached a peak of omicron cases. It's expected to occur in the days or week ahead.”

Claim: Omicron is more contagious than any other variant.

True: Dr. Adalja said, “Omicron, because of the mutations that it has, particularly ones that get around the immunity induced by prior infection, and the immunity induced by vaccines, basically renders the entire population susceptible. So, it can infect basically at will. This is the most contagious variant that we've seen of the coronavirus.”

Claim: You can catch omicron more than once.

Unclear: Dr. Adalja said, “It's unclear, at this point, what level of immunity occurs after an omicron infection. I suspect over time, yes, you probably can get reinfected. But we don't have that data yet because omicron has only been around since October/November.”

Claim: Cloth masks aren't as effective as KN95 masks.

True: Dr. Adalja said, “Cloth masks are not necessarily going to be able to stop all the particles that a person may emit, that have viral debris in them or virus or whole viruses in them. That's why we recommend much better mass than kind of one size fits all cloth masks. It doesn't necessarily have to be a KN95 mask. A surgical mask also is going to be an improvement over a plain cloth mask.”

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