COVID-19 cases are rising again abroad. Is the United States next?
COVID-19 cases are rising again abroad.  Is the United States next?

COVID-19 cases are rising again abroad. Is the United States next?

COVID-19 cases are falling in California and across the country to levels not seen since before last summer’s ugly delta variant took hold. The requirements for face mask have been abolished. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s risk cards have changed from red and orange warning colors to reassuring yellow and green.

So why do many health professionals feel uncomfortable?

There are worrying signs on the horizon that this may be a brief exposure of the virus, which is now in its third year, where it has changed our lives. Cases are rising sharply across Europe and Asia, driven by BA.2, a more transmissible pedigree of the super-infectious omicron variant that sent cases into the air over the winter. And the new sub-variant – which has been dubbed ‘stealth omicron’ – is gaining ground in the United States

“We should certainly be concerned,” said Dr. Eric Topol, executive vice president at Scripps Research in La Jolla and professor of molecular medicine. “We’re going to see a marked increase here.”

The director general of the World Health Organization said on Thursday that “after several weeks of decline, reported cases of COVID-19 are rising again globally, especially in parts of Asia,” adding that due to reductions in testing, “the cases we see are only top notch. of the iceberg. “

“The pandemic is not over,” said WHO Director – General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus.

WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove attributed the global recovery in cases to the timing of the spread of the BA.2 variant, just as many countries, especially in Europe, eased public health measures such as requiring face masks and limiting crowds.

She warned that confusing messages from government and health officials led to “misinformation that the omicron is mild, misinformation that the pandemic is over, misinformation that this is the last variant we will have to deal with.”

What does this mean for us here in California and the rest of the country? Topol and other experts are concerned that California and other states have loosened pandemic restrictions in recent weeks, and the United States has lower vaccination and booster doses than other countries experiencing increases in infections. In the past, outbreaks in the United States have only followed foreign cases by a few weeks.

Consider the comparison with countries that see significant cases: Britain and Germany in Europe and South Korea and Vietnam in Asia. The percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated is 74% in the UK and 76% in Germany, and both countries report that 58% are boosted, according to New York Times data. South Korea is 86% fully vaccinated and 62% boosted, Vietnam 80% fully vaccinated and 44% boosted.

The same data show that the United States is 65% fully vaccinated and 29% boosted.

“This is coming to a place near you,” Topol said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

With at least one measure seen as an early indicator of viral activity, it is already happening. Of the 485 wastewater systems monitored by the CDC across the country to check for the COVID-19 virus, reported 193 increases in the past week. In California, the systems serving San Benito County included Los Angeles and Ventura.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said BA.2 is already appearing in the wastewater from the northern end of the county, although virus infection levels have remained low throughout the county and cases have not reversed their downward trend.

“It’s not driving the levels up in general,” Cody said. “I do not know why, but it is not. But we see it very, very closely here and elsewhere.”

Dr. John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley, said the BA.2 subvariant is 30% more transmissible than the BA.1 omicron subvariant, which led to the record increase in winter cases. Reports from The United Kingdom show the growth of the subvariant has coincided with the recovery of the country in cases where BA.2 jumps from 52% of cases on 20 February to 83% on 6 March.

The subvariant has not reached these levels in the US – yet. But Swartzberg noted that it has grown rapidly, from 4% on February 19 to 7% on February 26 to 14% on March 5 and 23% on March 12.

“It doubles here about every week, which means that if this continues, it should become the dominant variant we want to deal with here in the United States within two weeks,” he said. “We are dealing with a variant that is about 30% more transferable in a few weeks, if not sooner.”

The highly contagious virus has infected several high-profile political leaders in the past week, including former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband Doug Emhoff and the San Jose Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

Yet officials in Washington, although acknowledging the threat, do not sound the alarm and maintain that with funding for tests, treatments and vaccines – the White House has asked for $ 22.5 billion – the country is well positioned to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks .

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that BA.2 “has been circulating here for some time” and that “we are closely monitoring and monitoring the situation both in Europe and in China.”

“But we know the tools the United States has – including mRNA vaccines, therapy and testing – are all effective tools against this variant,” Psaki said.

These comments have made health experts like Swartzberg feel like Cassandra of Greek mythology, as they see COVID-19 increases abroad and warn that relaxed public health measures are still needed here.

“You can see the future, but no one is listening to you,” Swartzberg said. “The bottom line is we just are not done with this virus.”

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