As COVID Pandemic Subsides, Keep Your Guard Up

February 17, 2021
Frank Diamond

As infection and hospitalization rates from COVID-19 plummet across America, medical experts worry about the variants and vaccine hesitancy.

We may have reached the beginning of the end of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates are plummeting throughout the United States. According to the Johns Hopkins University, an average of 108,000 Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week. That represents a 24% drop in infections over the week before and it is part of a wider trend. According to the COVID Tracking Project, average daily infections have dropped around 55% over the last 4 weeks. And it has been 3 weeks since even a single state has seen an increase in average daily infections. In fact, nationwide, average daily cases have been declining by double digits for 4 weeks straight. Hospitalizations have also dropped: about 8% over the last week.

According to Johns Hopkins University yesterday, there were 83,321 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. And yesterday, 3361 people died from COVID-19. Medical experts warn we still need to keep our guard up because an average of 3000 people a day dying from COVID-NINETEEN is still way too high.

Nonetheless more states are loosening COVID-NINETEEN restrictions.

Meanwhile, about 53 million Americans have gotten a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the effort to get all Americans vaccinated continues to ramp up.

Real-world evidence (RWE) had been quite the medical catchphrase a couple of years ago. One aspect of RWE, simply put, measures how well a new drug or medical device that aced clinical trials actually works in the real world, after it goes to market. Well, Israeli researchers have put the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to the real-world evidence test and found that it’s just as effective in the real world than it was in the clinical trials.

But the promising numbers do not reflect the impact of the vaccines, say some medical experts. At least not at this point; at this still relatively early phase of the vaccination effort. Tom Frieden, MD, and former CDC director, tells CNN that the numbers reflect that the public has more bought into the so-called low-tech methods for slowing infection: hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a mask. That’s one of the reasons that Frieden and other health care experts are concerned about states loosening COVID restrictions too quickly.

Those other experts include researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. They predict that 610,000 people in the United States might die of COVID-19 by the end of June. Two developments could lead to that outcome, according to the University of Washington researchers. One of them would be that the loosening of restrictions would inevitably lead to more infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. The other concern? The COVID-19 variants that are now on the loose, especially the B.1.1.7. variant first spotted in the United Kingdom and which now has a foothold in the United States. The CDC has warned that that variant could become the dominant variant in the US over the next couple of months. B.1.1.7. is said to be anywhere from 50% to 70% more contagious than the variant that we’ve been battling for the last year, the D614G variant. It is also said to be 30% deadlier.

University of Washington researchers have found 1173 cases of the B.1.1.7. variant in the United States spread over 39 states. Containing that variant requires that we keep to the COVID-19 restrictions a little while longer, those researchers argue.

Overall, in the United States, there have been over 27 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and about 485,000 people have died from the disease. In the world, there have been over 100 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and about 2.4 million people have died from the disease.

Along with hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a mask, the COVID-19 vaccinations are indeed a must if we are ever to get back to normal, but too many Americans say that they won’t get vaccinated, according to a poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that was released last week. The poll says that while 67% of Americans say that they will get the vaccine, 15% say that they’re not certain and 17% say that they probably won’t get it. In addition, and more to the point for infection preventionists, there’s evidence that health care professionals won’t get the vaccine.

Have we turned the corner? Time will tell.