A Manitoban epidemiologist says COVID-19 may one day turn into something like a common cold, but we are not there yet.

As has been reported over the last few weeks, skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers are largely linked to the Omicron variant. Epidemiologist Cynthia Carr says this because Omicron can latch onto your cells and replicate far more efficiently than previous variants making it far more infectious.

"December 7th I think was the date that Omicron was first identified in Manitoba and at that time we had about 69,000 cases in the province. Just in the last 4 weeks, we have had an increase of more than 30,000 cases. That is basically the number of cases we had in our entire first year with this pandemic so there has been a massive change in the transmission."

Cynthia Carr has been an epidemiologist since 1994 and even spent over a decade working for Southern Health. She notes she now owns a consulting company called Epi Research Inc.

Looking at the underlying data, Cynthia Carr says the Omicron variant generally results in fewer severe cases than previous variants, but they are also noticing that fully vaccinated people are significantly less likely to become seriously ill and hospitalized.

"So, right now what we are seeing is a combination of the virus itself changing but also for those of us who are vaccinated, we again have those fighter cells activated so that even if we get infected, our immune system is much better to fight against that and we are still seeing a huge difference in outcomes related to people who are vaccinated compared to those who are not vaccinated."

With that said, Carr says even though fully vaccinated people can get COVID-19, they are still usually much better off. This trend of COVID-19 becoming more infectious and less severe is expected to continue.

"COVID-19 is the seventh strain of the Coronavirus family and four of those account for about one in four common colds already. So, will this seventh one now evolve enough that it has a lot more in common with those four strains that cause common colds and can make you pretty miserable but perhaps not have as significant an impact on severe health outcomes?"

In the meantime, Carr stresses that vaccines are still our best bet against this pandemic and we need to encourage as many people to take that step as possible.

Even though Omicron is generally less severe than previous variants, Carr says the sheer number of cases is still stressing our healthcare system.