Expert warns US ‘flying blind’ to pandemic’s next stage
As the United States prepares to leave Covid, many health officials are ditching daily case reporting and other data monitoring measures and instead investing resources elsewhere, but an expert warns that will leave America “blind” during the pandemic, just as signs are beginning to emerge that cases will soon start to rise again.
South Dakota last week became the tenth US state to drop daily reporting of Covid cases, moving instead to reporting cases only once a week. “Daily” reporting is not a reality for many states anyway, as those involved in daily case reporting still only make the numbers available three or four days a week.
Many of those states have also cut funding for Covid testing sites and other facilities set up specifically to fight the virus.
The move comes as a sign that America is starting to feel ready to leave the pandemic behind as the number of cases declines and the milder variant of Omicron combined with the large number of residents vaccinated means that even those infected often suffer from minor cases.
However, not all experts are convinced. Dr John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, described the abandonment of Covid surveillance as setting America up to repeat past failures.
Cases are also starting to rise again elsewhere in the world, including the UK which often experiences the same trends as the US – just a few weeks ahead. Daily infections jumped 30% across the pond to around 225,000 a day.
“Testing has always been the cornerstone of our response to the pandemic. Without this surveillance data, we are flying blind and will almost certainly repeat the mistakes of the past,’ Brownstein told ABC.
Dr John Brownstein (pictured), an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, described the abandonment of Covid surveillance measures as allowing the country to ‘fly blind’
“When we shut down testing sites, we not only put individuals, their contacts and their communities at risk, we undermine critical public health infrastructure.”
Brownstein’s warning comes just as there are signs America could be entering another stage of the pandemic. Currently in the United States, the country is seeing an average of 31,070 cases per day, down 3% over the past week and down 95% since the Omicron variant’s peak of nearly 800,000 cases per day.
However, this good fortune could soon be reversed. Cases are now starting to rise over the past two weeks in five US states, including New York, which has so far served as a canary in the coal mine during the pandemic.
New York has recorded a 21% increase in Covid infections over the past two weeks, the first state to record a substantial jump in nearly two months.
Manhattan, New York’s largest population center, also saw a 17% increase over the past week, fueling the largest population increase in the entire state.
The state is still at 1,000 cases per day, however, a very small total that pales in comparison to the nearly 40,000 cases per day mark reached at the peak of the Omicron variant.
Other states seeing increases include Nevada (29% increase over the past two weeks), Arkansas (18%), Colorado (10%) and Rhode Island (4%).
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that two weeks ago, Covid cases rose by 8% worldwide, to 11 million. This comes after weeks of falling case numbers. More recent data is expected to be released on Tuesday.
The biggest jump was seen in the Western Pacific region, where cases jumped 25% week-on-week. There was a jump of 14% in Africa and 2% in Europe as well.
European nations that have often outstripped the United States by a few months during the pandemic are among those that have seen worrying increases. In the UK, cases have jumped around 32% over the past week, to 225,000 a day.
The WHO warns that these increases in cases are just the start of what could be a brutal spring season for some parts of the world.
“These increases are occurring despite reduced testing in some countries, which means the cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.
Brownstein warns that failure to have adequate data capture and reporting tools in place over the next few months will allow the virus to circulate largely undetected, leaving Americans vulnerable due to a lack of information. available.
“Comprehensive case data is essential for an effective response. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, lack of data leads to poor decision-making and ultimately costs lives,” he said.
The recent rises in the United States and much of the world are powered by the “stealth” variant, or Omicron’s BA.2 lineage, as it’s officially called.
The lineage is now dominant in the UK, Denmark and many other European countries, as it was soon able to overtake the original BA.1 version of the variant.
However, BA.2 failed to take hold in the United States in the same way as it did in much of Europe. According to the most recent data revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week, BA.2 accounts for 23% of active Covid cases in the United States, with BA.1 still dominating. Updated figures are expected to be released on Tuesday.
The Omicron variant as a whole constitutes every case sequenced in the United States, according to the CDC, with the highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant strain totally stifling the Delta variant this year.
BA.2’s share of Covid infections in America is growing rapidly, however, with the variant accounting for just 11% of sequenced cases last week, and just 6% the previous week.
It is most prevalent in New Jersey and New York, and parts of the northeastern United States, accounting for about 40% of cases in the two designated areas, explaining the recent increase in cases in the region.
The strain is not yet the dominant strain of Covid all over America, while it has taken over in many parts of Europe.
While the WHO still issues dire warnings, a majority of signs point to the United States doing well this spring. The organization has been among the most cautious voices throughout the pandemic and, as a global organization, its outlook includes areas beyond the United States and Western Europe.
America has a particularly high vaccination rate, according to CDC data. Nearly 90% of American adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 100 million have received a booster shot.
More shots could also be on the way, with Moderna submitting data to regulators last week to get a fourth dose of the vaccine approved for all US adults. Pfizer, the company’s main competitor in rolling out the vaccine in the United States, also submitted data for a fourth vaccine for Americans 65 and older.
The country’s Covid death rate is also relatively low. America averages 1,099 deaths a day, down 11% over past week