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Health And Family

Fr. Nic Austriaco calls for spiritual health in face of Omicron surge

WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit - The Philippine Star
Fr. Nic Austriaco calls for spiritual health in face of Omicron surge
During this difficult time, we have to have the deep faith and hope that He who made us, loves us and guides us will also walk with us during these dark times.
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Fr. Nicanor “Nic” Robles Austriaco Jr., OP, has been at the forefront of the news lately, for his scientific yet hopeful insights on the current coronavirus surge. The

charming scientist is also a Catholic priest.

A Filipino-American molecular biologist, Fr. Nic graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. He has two doctorate degrees — one in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one in sacred theology from the University of Fribourg.

Despite the Ivy League training, he speaks in a language common people can

understand without any trace of smugness. He teaches biology and theology atProvidence College in Rhode Island. He is also a visiting professor at the

University of Santo Tomas, as well as a fellow of the OCTA Research Team.

“It has been a crazy two weeks because of the Omicron surge. But God is good,

and grace is powerful,” he said in a recent interview.

As Omicron numbers grow, Fr. Nic warned that the number of cases will still explode. Fear should not cripple us and while we focus on physical and mental health; Fr. Nic emphasized that spiritual health is also extremely important.

“During this difficult time we should not forget that the world has survived many pandemics. We have to have the deep faith and hope that He who made us, loves us and guides us will also walk with us during these dark times. This, too, will pass. We simply should wait like Simeon for the manifestation of the Savior. It seems dark and difficult, but Christ is the light,” he said.

“Unlike the Delta surge, this one is still centered in NCR. We already have double the Delta surge in the NCR. In South Africa, it started very fast and then eventually ran out of steam. During a surge, if you have any symptoms that look like COVID-19 it’s most likely that you have contracted the virus. This is not flu season. If you are getting flu-like symptoms, especially sore throat, you have to consider yourself positive and isolate,” he continued.

“If you are elderly, or with co-morbidity, even mild Omicron might trigger a severe disease. Even if most cases are mild, because of the number of infections, it will still overwhelm the hospitals. Avoid going to the hospital unless absolutely necessary (such as when you struggle breathing). Because we have to reserve the hospital beds for those with severe and critical conditions,” Fr. Nic explained.

“It can go up to 50,000 per day. The Delta surge was the whole country all at once. For the Omicron, it’s clearly NCR, plus. Slowly, we are seeing a leak to the rest of the country. There will be two pandemics. The NCR, which will peak out shortly and then the rest of the country, which will take more time,” he said.

When asked why he thinks this Omicron might lead to the end of the pandemic, he pointed to lessons from the Spanish flu pandemic from 1918 to 1920.

“If you go back a hundred years, the sign of the pandemic ending was the virusbecoming milder, or its attenuation. If a milder variant like the Omicron becomes the dominant strain, it’s a sign of hope. Omicron replaced the more lethal and serious Delta variant. Omicron infection will provide antibodies to protect the survivors from Delta and all other variants. After the wave there is better population protection,” he added.

He said that Omicron may be a blessing in disguise. In every suffering, we should look for a glimmer of grace. While it may be a hard month, it will provide the population the protection we need. Though symptoms of Omicron include cough, cold, fever, headache, body aches and a very sore throat, only a few report loss of taste and smell. The symptoms also appear two to three days after infection instead of five days with Delta. Symptoms resolve after five to seven days in general.

“The virus is not the thing that kills. If your immune system is better, then it can fight back against the virus without overreacting — what’s called the cytokine storm, which actually kills most patients,” Fr. Nic explained.

Unfortunately, there will still be casualties. Incidentally, it was shared by another panelist in the Go Negosyo town hall meeting where Fr. Nic presented that, unfortunately, Tocilizumab (which I understand from my son’s hospitalization is used precisely to prevent a cytokine storm) is still in very low supply.

“Omicron is burning its way through (the whole world). It will rise, it will fall. In South Africa it surged quickly, it was four weeks long. Our hope is that it will be the same here,” Fr. Nic prayed.

* * *

Post me a note at [email protected].

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