(CNN) — The corona figures do not look so good this week. New Covid-19 diagnoses rose in about half of US states in the past week. Hospital admissions have increased in 11 states and deaths have increased in 17 states.
The number of coronavirus cases in the US has stabilized in recent weeks, retaining about half of the growth from the last wave of this summer.
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While new cases have fallen in some states, they are on the rise in others, particularly in the cold-weather states of some regions.
Southern states that were a major driver of this summer’s surge now have some of the lowest cases. Two months ago, Florida and Texas together accounted for nearly a quarter (22%) of all new cases. Now those two major states account for only 6% of all cases.
Florida cut new cases to a tenth of what they were two months ago and Texas to a fifth.
That should sound like good news. But with less dramatic declines in other less populous states — and slight increases in some others, particularly the Northeast and mountain regions — US numbers remain broadly stable.
It’s confusing and the numbers can send people a mixed message. However, they are not sending mixed messages to epidemiologists, who do not foresee a good winter for the US or the world.
Too many people remain unvaccinated, and too many people continue to ignore and even fight the advice to wear face masks indoors with other people. This dangerous combination could lead to more spikes, even if not as high as in the recent past, and in areas beyond those where rising cases are currently seen.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the coming weeks. But I have a feeling it’s not going to be pretty,” Michael Osterholm, chief of the infectious disease research and policy center at the University of Minnesota, told CNN .
“Today is a very sad day,” epidemiologist Ali Mokdad, who has been monitoring the coronavirus pandemic at the University of Washington since its inception, told CNN. “Things are going up. It came down. This is at a time when the United States has all the tools we need to prevent a wave, all the tools we need to save lives. We have the best vaccines and we have enough,” he said.
“And people aren’t willing to get them.”
False sense of security
Mokdad said states like Florida have a false sense of security.
“Florida has a large population of elderly people who have been vaccinated. And the young people just got infected. So the virus had no more people to infect,” he said.
But he said immunity is declining for both groups.
“There will be a lot of winter trips to Florida,” he said. “Infections will start all over again,” he predicted. “We are so connected.”
Diagnoses and hospitalizations are both up in Michigan, with hospitalizations rising 20% in the past week, according to state data.
“Metro Detroit is becoming a hotspot again,” Dr. Nick Gilpin, director of infection prevention and epidemiology at Beaumont Health, a southeastern Michigan health system, said at a news conference Thursday.
“I feel like we’re going to be in this world for the next few months because I don’t see much that can change unless people start radically changing their behavior. This could be a four or five month affair,” Gilpin added.
Like Mokdad, Gilpin blames unvaccinated people and a refusal to wear masks. It is hitting hospitals and clinics hard, he said.
“I mean, it’s brutal. No one wants to see these Covid patients this late. But we’re masking ourselves and trying to help people get better,” Gilpin said.
“That said, there probably isn’t a hospital in the state that isn’t dealing with staff shortages. It’s tough, especially when we look at a fourth wave that could last through the winter. This wave will be more like a marathon than a sprint.”
Millions still unvaccinated could spark new spikes
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In Colorado, where the number of cases has risen 30% in the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, Governor Jared Polis stated that the entire state was at high risk of transmission or exposure to Covid-19 and signed an executive order. which stated that anyone over the age of 18 was eligible for a booster dose of vaccine.
“We want to ensure that Coloradans have all the resources to protect themselves from this deadly virus and to help reduce the stress for our hospitals and healthcare workers. Every Coloradan is now eligible to receive the booster so they can protect themselves and their families,” Polis said in a statement.
Mokdad approves. “Science tells us we need three doses to be immune,” he said. “We’re losing credibility as scientists unless you say so — we need three doses to be protected.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have OK booster doses for most U.S. adults, and the FDA is considering extending the authorization for booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to all adults.
Osterholm thinks boosting people will help, but says it’s far more important to get more people vaccinated in the first place.
“If we see increases in LA or New York City, we can just as easily get back to where we were. At the moment there is no evidence that that is happening,” he said in his podcast this week.
“But I have to tell you that given the vaccination rate … we could certainly see big increases in both metropolitan areas where, with the population density what it is, the number of national cases could really increase in a short period of time,” he added.
An estimated 60 million Americans remain unvaccinated. That’s enough people to fuel new peaks, Osterholm said.
“In general, there is still a lot of human wood left to burn this forest fire caused by the coronavirus,” he said.
Even in states, cities and counties with high vaccination coverage, enough people remain unvaccinated or undervaccinated to prevent the spread of the virus. And if immunity wanes as quickly as some studies indicate, Osterholm fears more breakthrough infections, even among the vaccinated.
What could be in store for this winter?
Osterholm is pessimistic about the coming weeks. “That fact, coupled with Delta, schools and upcoming holidays, makes me skeptical that we won’t see any new hotspots emerge in this country in the coming weeks and months. So where do I see us going? I think we will continue to see increases. They may not be nearly as high as the ones we just had, but they will occur.
And those are not limited to current hotspots, Mokdad predicted. The holidays will take care of that. “People are going out like there’s no Covid-19,” he said. “We’re going to see Americans travel — Thanksgiving and then all the way through the New Year. We’re going to see an increase, and that increase will be very significant.”
AAA predicts that travel before Thanksgiving will rebound to near pre-pandemic levels, with 53.4 million Americans expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.
And many states have such low vaccination levels that they are bonfires waiting to be lit, Mokdad said.
“I mean, West Virginia” [is] 41.1% fully vaccinated. So 60% of the population has at least no immunity to infections,” he said.
‘So what do you expect? We get a peak. If you look at Montana, 51%. Wyoming, 44.6%. I mean, you could go on. There are now so many states under 50. Louisiana, 48.1%. Alabama, 45.2%.”
These same states, Mokdad and Osterholm both pointed out, also have populations that are largely resistant to the use of masks.
“Nobody’s listening,” Mokdad said gloomily. He said he and fellow epidemiologists discussed how to draw attention to the dire situation.
“Some of us talked about going on a hunger strike. We are really frustrated. It’s depressing that we know how to protect our people and we don’t,” he said.
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