PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — While COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in Hampton Roads, the number of people dying from the virus is going down.

“Fortunately for us, omicron has 10-fold less virus in the lung, so we are not seeing as much pneumonia,” Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Edward Oldfield from Eastern Virginia Medical School told WAVY.

Omicron has more virus in the airways, Oldfield explained, making it 20 times more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain.

He said that is why everyone, despite vaccination status, should be wearing a mask in public.

“It’s what we call source control,” he said.

But evidence is emerging that cloth masks may not be as effective against the omicron variant, which leads Oldfield to give the following advice.

“If you have diabetes, if you’re overweight, if you’re over 65, then you ought to be looking at an N95 mask,” he said.

If you can’t find one, afford one, or it’s too uncomfortable, Oldfield suggests wearing a regular surgical mask with a cloth mask over it.

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“One thing you do not want to do with omicron is wear the single-layer masks like a bandana or a [neck] gaiter. I think they would be essentially completely ineffective,” he said.

Schools, he says, should not go to optional masking, it should be required and they should remain open.

“I think for societal reasons it’s better to keep the schools open,” he told WAVY.

With masking and vaccines, Oldfield said the weight of the evidence suggests going to school is safe.

When more people get immunized and the Pfizer pill that is approved to treat COVID-19 is more available by prescription, Oldfield believes we will enter a new phase.

“I think we’re going to shift into what we call an endemic phase where it’s just like the common cold,” he said.

There are currently four coronaviruses that cause about 30% of the common cold, he said.

He suspects that each one of them went through some sort of phase like this and then became endemic. They come back each winter and we just live with it.