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Here’s why you should take COVID-19 precautions even as Omicron declines

A coronavirus booster being administered this month in Boston. People should continue getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks in indoor public spaces, and taking other precautions, even as the Omicron surge declines, experts say.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Recent news on the Omicron-fueled coronavirus surge has been encouraging. Massachusetts cases are dropping from stratospheric heights. Coronavirus traces in Boston-area waste water, considered a harbinger of future cases, are plummeting. And some experts are predicting a lull — or even the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

But don’t get too excited, experts say, emphasizing that it’s crucial for people to take precautions even as cases fall, both to protect themselves and to ensure that the steep case declines continue.

If people don’t remain cautious, it will prolong the pandemic, said Dr. Robert Klugman, an internist who is associate vice president and medical director of employee health and occupational medicine at UMass Memorial Health. “It just drags it out. It delays when we’ll be able to declare victory,” he said.

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“I think the song remains the same. People just need to continue to be careful and protect themselves, their family, their community, and just bear with it a little longer. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

“People who aren’t careful,” he said, “are just going to make that date further and further in the future,” he said.

He also reiterated that the virus is a formidable opponent, saying he has had patients that were vaccinated and boosted who contracted it and told him they’ve “never been as sick in their lives.”

“If you’re that one person who is hospitalized” or contracts long COVID, he said, “I think you’re going to feel pretty bad. ... I implore people to please continue to be careful.”

Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, said: “We saw a lot of cases going up. And we’re going to have a lot of cases coming down. So we really need to remain vigilant and continue to use those public health measures that we’ve been recommending.”

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Those measures, she said, include making sure to get vaccinated and boosted, wearing high-quality masks in indoor spaces, improving indoor ventilation, and getting tested when you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are going to visit someone who is at high risk from the disease.

“I’m really happy to see that we’ve peaked and we’re heading down, but this is not the time to pull back. This is the time to double down,” she said.

She said that it’s possible cases could stop dropping and plateau at a high level. “That’s why we need to be vigilant so we continue on this nice decrease.”

“We can do it. We have all the tools. We just need to follow them and use all those tools so we can protect everyone,” she said. “It’s all up to us.”

Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, noted that while cases are down, hospitals remain under strain.

“The good news has to be taken in the context of the massive number of new cases we have experienced, and the ongoing strain to the hospital system locally and nationally that continues to this day,” he said in an e-mail.

“It still makes sense to try and avoid getting COVID, especially when case numbers are still so high. When we get back to a situation that we were in back in May and June 2021 regarding new case numbers, then we can open up substantially more,” he said.

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In general, said Justin Lessler, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, disregarding precautions “could slow the speed” of the decline in cases.

“It certainly could draw out the tail a long way,” he said. “Whether anything would be enough to completely reverse it, that I’m less clear of.”

He also cautioned, “If you draw out that tail, actually far, far more people could get infected on that downside” of the curve.

People, he said, should focus less on trends than on the absolute numbers of cases and hospitalizations, which remain high.

“The risk is still pretty high. The prevalence of people infected out there is still pretty high,” he said. “We still have a little bit of ways to go, and the things people are doing to protect themselves and help control the pandemic are still warranted for a bit.”

Ryan Huddle of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.