Reported cases of COVID-19 around the world rose an alarming 33% last month as variants and scarce access to vaccination fueled the rise in some regions.
The global number of cases hovered around 3 million per week for most of October, then started to rise in November, surpassing 4 million last week. The climb in the US was much less arduous: 2.55 million compared to 2.5 million in October, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. But on Wednesday, the first US case of the ommicron variant was identified in California.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a comprehensive plan today to fight the pandemic this winter. The president has said the plan will not entail any closures or closures, but officials say it will include travel restrictions.
Unlike the battle for vaccine access in much of the developing world, there are enough doses to vaccinate and boost all eligible Americans. But access could again become an issue, said Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer and a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan.
“When we had these mass vaccination events, it seemed really easy to drive in and get a vaccine and go,” she said. “That has now become more difficult.”
Also in the news:
►A new study, involving NBA players, their families and staff, found that people with breakthrough COVID-19 cases stopped producing the virus two days earlier than unvaccinated ones.
►Vaccines have suddenly become scarce in some parts of Oregon after months of vaccine surpluses in the state and nationwide, officials said.
📈Today’s numbers: The US has recorded more than 48.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 782,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: over 263.6 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. According to the CDC, more than 197 million Americans — about 59.4% of the population — are fully vaccinated.
📘 What we are reading: The first case of the coronavirus omicron variant in the United States was confirmed on Wednesday. How did scientists find it?
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Biden unveils plan for pandemic winter fight
Stricter travel regulations, free home tests and booster shots are key elements of President Joe Biden’s latest strategy to fight the rapidly evolving coronavirus. Biden will promote his plan Thursday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health as people settle in for the winter and gather for the holidays. Some highlights of the plan:
- Require travelers entering the country by air to test negative for COVID within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, rather than within three days.
- Extension to March 18, the requirement that masks must be worn on planes, trains and public transport.
- Require private health insurers to cover 100% of the cost of home testing for the coronavirus.
- Launch of a public information campaign to encourage 100 million adults to receive boosters, with a special focus on seniors.
– Maureen Groppe
South Africa, some European countries see sharp rise in new infections
Globally, there are again more than 4 million cases per week, after spending about 3 million per week for most of October. One of the biggest increases is in South Africa, where cases are reported about 11 times faster than a month earlier. The country was the first to identify the ommicron variant, which some experts fear could spread quickly.
Parts of Europe have also seen a strong resurgence of the virus, from previously relatively low rates. Spain reported about 8,900 cases in the week ending November 1, but nearly 63,000 cases in the week ending December 1. France went from about 42,000 a week to 243,000. The number of cases in Germany has tripled, to about 400,000 per week.
Limited access to testing in many developing countries means that global numbers are likely to be significantly undervalued and may hide regional trends.
– Mike Stucka
Tennessee signed a $75 million contract tracing agreement with a company with no epidemiological experience
With virtually no regulatory oversight and largely shielded from the public eye, Tennessee state officials agreed last summer to pay a $20 million medical billing company to track down the state’s contacts. The price tag on that contract has now more than tripled to a total of $75 million, according to multiple amendments between the company and the Department of Health.
The extension of the no-bid contract with Hendersonville company Xtend Healthcare – first reported by The Tennessee Lookout – has raised eyebrows with lawmakers on both sides. Company employees have questioned how well Xtend Healthcare — a medical billing company with no previous experience in epidemiology — has managed contact tracing in Tennessee. Several Xtend Healthcare employees told WPLN they had significant case backups, with some reaching infected patients after the point of quarantine.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has defended the state’s emergency purchase process, arguing that state officials needed to make quick decisions to secure supplies such as personal protective equipment and other services during the pandemic.
– Yue Stella Yu, Nashville Tennessee
Indiana reports more than 6,000 new cases of COVID-19
Indiana reported 6,164 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of new cases added to the state’s dashboard in a single day since early January. Holiday weekends, such as the long Thanksgiving weekend, can wreak havoc on COVID-19 numbers, thanks to testing delays. So, in part, the cases confirmed Tuesday may be an artifact of testing being less available over the weekend.
Suggesting this could be part of another troubling trend, Indiana reported more than 4,000 new cases Tuesday and by Wednesday the seven-day average for new cases reached 3,245, the highest number since September.
-Shari Rudavsky, Indianapolis Star
Contributors: Mike Stucka, Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY; The Associated Press