CDC: There’s No Place Like Zoom for the Holidays

As rates of infection, hospitalization, and deaths from COVID-19 plummet, we’re reminded that we’ve been here before. Too many Americans remain unvaccinated and too many questions about SARS-CoV-2 remain unanswered.

UPDATED October 6, 2021, at 1:30 p.m.

Various news outlets report that the content on holiday guidance has been removed from the the CDC website. CDC spokeswoman reportedly said in a statement that “the content is in the process of being updated by CDC to reflect current guidance ahead of this holiday season. The page had a technical update on Friday, but doesn’t reflect the CDC’s guidance ahead of this upcoming holiday season. CDC will share additional guidance soon."

ORIGINAL POST:

Every silver lining has its cloud, unfortunately. So, while the rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have plummeted in recent weeks and medical experts express cautious optimism that the worst may be over, there’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19. And to use the phrase planted in the zeitgeist by Game of Thrones, “winter is coming.”

The holiday season last year caused a huge COVID-19 surge, one that had been predicted by many medical experts, but which many people nonetheless disregarded. This year, however, we have the vaccines, which will prevent another surge, right? Well, maybe. Unfortunately, about 70 million Americans who can get vaccinated have so far not done so. The clouds around which silver linings enshroud particularly hover over 15 states in which fewer than 50% of residents remain unvaccinated: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So, even though Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, indicated to CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday that we may have finally turned the corner on this 20-month-long pandemic that had been given new life by the Delta variant and that’s upended the world, Americans and the health care system cannot yet let its guard down.

Still, there’s plenty to feel hopeful about.

Since late August, COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have declined about 30%. The United States has averaged 110,232 daily cases as of September 27, as opposed to 159,515 as of August 27, according to the CDC. COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped from 12,330 to 8507 in the same period, a 31% decline.

Another phrase in the zeitgeist is “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” made famous by Bing Crosby. Fauci was asked yesterday on Face the Nation if that should be the case this year, to which he responded that “it’s just too soon to tell. We’ve just got to [be] concentrating on continuing to get those numbers down and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we’re going to do at a particular time.”

Fauci’s comments came just 2 days after the CDC updated guidelines on how Americans should approach the holiday season. The agency suggests that individuals shouldn’t travel unless they are fully vaccinated and reminded Americans that “attending gatherings to celebrate events and holidays increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. The safest way to celebrate is virtually, with people who live with you, or outside and at least 6 feet apart from others.”

Another reminder about just how much of a toll COVID-19 has taken on Americans came yesterday, after Reuters crunched data and announced that over 700,000 Americans have died from COVID-19; 703,672 to be exact. Also, August had been the deadliest month for pregnant women, according to the CDC, which last week issued an urgent health advisory to health care providers that they encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated. Only 31% of pregnant individuals have been fully vaccinated.

A question hanging over the data supplied by CDC and all the other agencies and organizations tracking COVID-19 was raised by the Washington Post yesterday: Just how much can those data be trusted? The headline on the Washington Post article pulls no punches: “Messy, Incomplete U.S. Data Hobbles Pandemic Response.”

The newspaper reports that “critically important data on vaccinations, infections, hospitalizations and deaths are scattered among local health departments, often out of date, hard to aggregate at the national level—and simply not up to the job of battling a highly transmissible and stealthy pathogen.”

The article then quotes Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who, readers are told, worked 2 decades for the CDC.

“We are flying blind,” Mokdad tells the newspaper. “With all our money, with all our know-how, we have dropped the ball. … We don’t have the data. We don’t have the good surveillance system to keep us informed.”

In fact, we still don’t know exactly where SARS-CoV-2 originated. The theory that a lab leak in Wuhan, China, had for months been discounted out of hand but recently has gained new credibility—or at least the belief that it merits anther look—after the Chinese government hindered efforts of an investigative team sent by the World Health Organization to look into that possibility.

The WHO reportedly wants to reopen the investigation into the possible lab leak. It’s a contentious issue, because some have charged that the Wuhan lab leak theory springs more from anti-Asian bias than from scientific inquiry. Science magazine last week hosted a panel discussion with scientists from both sides of the question.

In its summation of the story, Axios this morning offers this bottom line: “With time running out to gather more evidence—and the Chinese government stonewalling further efforts—the chance of finding a definitive answer is dwindling.”