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The pandemic could leave in its wake a “tsunami” of chronic health conditions in younger people, including serious heart problems.
The glass is half empty. But the trope used to determine whether someone’s an optimist or a pessimist, actually leans into a third category when it comes to what the United States faces with COVID-19: realist. Realistically speaking, the glass is in indeed half empty with fewer than half (48.6%) of Americans being fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And that’s why public health officials can’t let their guard down against COVID-19, as the Delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated in the U.S.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy tells CNN that “cases are going up, hospitalizations are going up, death rates are ticking up.”
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, new daily cases of COVID-19 have risen about 145% over the last 2 weeks, and cases have surged in 44 states. According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, over the last 7 days new COVID-19 cases have risen 69.3%, lab test positivity has risen 1.2%, hospital admissions have risen 35.8%, and deaths 26.3%. The actual number of deaths is miniscule compared to the 3000 to 4000 deaths a day the US faced during surges; deaths are now averaging about 212 a day over the last 7 days, according to Johns Hopkins.
Nonetheless, things have gotten worrisome enough that yesterday the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in schools this fall.
It comes down to this: If you’re unvaccinated, you’re vulnerable, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, at a press conference on July 8. Walensky said that “data from several states over the last few months suggests that 99.5% of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States were in unvaccinated people. Those deaths were preventable with a simple, safe shot.”
Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s (ICT®) Editorial Advisory Board, worries that the unvaccinated put others at risk, if not of death from COVID-19, but from long COVID. Kavanagh worries that far from being a return to pre-COVID normal, when the pandemic finally recedes it will leave a destructive overload of disabilities behind.
“We need to have as much diligence in preventing chronic disability in the young as we do in preventing deaths in the elderly,” Kavanagh tells ICT®. Kavanagh’s concern dovetails with those of the author of a study in Circulation in April with the ominous title: “Avoiding the Coming Tsunami of Common, Chronic Disease: What the Lessons of the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Teach Us.”
Robert M. Califf, MD, of Duke University School of Medicine, wrote that “during the past year, clinicians and the public have been focused on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and its associated societal and economic effects. However, once the acute phase of this crisis has passed, we will face an enormous wave of death and disability as a result of common chronic diseases (CCDs), with cardiometabolic diseases at the crest.” On a more hopeful note, Califf adds that “although the pandemic has created additional impetus that unless heeded will amplify the consequences of this burden, the rapid adaptations and innovations in care and research prompted by the urgent response to it may also offer us the means to stem this flood.”