Pandemic update: Disease experts warn: ‘The world needs a reality check’

The Covid-19 pandemic is still with us, despite an ongoing rush by many people to resume life as normal. 

This information is timely and needs to be taken seriously.

In the San Francisco Bay Area people are being encouraged to once again wear masks indoors.

Excerpted from The Washington Post 7.17.2021

The variant first identified in India last year is now dominant in the United States.

Federal health officials sounded an alarm Friday about a surge in U.S. coronavirus infections fueled by the twin threats posed by the highly transmissible delta variant and a stagnation in efforts to vaccinate as many Americans as possible.

During a White House briefing, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the seven-day average of coronavirus infections soared nearly 70 percent in just one week, to about 26,300 cases a day. The seven-day average for hospitalizations has increased, too, climbing about 36 percent from the previous seven-day period, she said.

Maria Van Kerkhove, a World Health Organization epidemiologist, was in her Geneva office last weekend preparing for a keynote address when a simple phrase came to mind. She had been pondering the dismaying rise in coronavirus infections globally during the previous three weeks, a reversal of promising trends in late spring. The surge came as people across much of the Northern Hemisphere were moving around again in a suddenly freewheeling summer — as if the pandemic were over.

Dr. Van Kerkhove wrote in her notebook: “The world needs a reality check.”

Van Kerkhove’s subsequent comments on Twitter pointing out the lack of social distancing drew predictable flak from the social media trolls, something she has gotten used to in the past year and a half. But she is not an outlier. Around the world, scientists and public health officials fear that the world’s protracted battle against the coronavirus is at a delicate and dangerous moment.

The highly transmissible coronavirus variant called delta is present in all 50 states and is already dominant in many parts of the United States.

Modeling shows the variant now accounts for 51.7 percent of all new infections in this country, five times the prevalence four weeks earlier, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the week ending July 3.

“Although we expected the delta variant to become the dominant strain in the United States, this rapid rise is troubling,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday during a White House news briefing.

In some parts of the country, she said, delta is even more widespread. For example, in parts of the Midwest and upper mountain states,including in Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, the CDC’s sequencing of infections suggests the new variant may account for about 80 percent of cases.

The good news, Walensky said, is all three coronavirus vaccines authorized in the United States offer strong protection against severe disease and death from covid-19. Preliminary data from several states over the past several months suggests that 99.5 percent of covid-19-related deaths occurred among unvaccinated people, she said.

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What is the delta variant?

The delta variant, also known as B. 1.617, was first detected last year in India, where it has been ravaging the nation and has since spread to dozens of other countries, upending plans for a return to normalcy.

Delta has several lineages with slightly different sets of mutations. One of those — B. 1.617.2 — is also now the dominant coronavirus variant in the United Kingdom, where it accounts for the vast majority of all covid-19 cases in that nation.


Health experts describe delta as the most “fit” variant of the coronavirus. That means it’s likely to outcompete other variants to infect more people with covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, said Monica Gandhi, an infectious-disease expert at the University of California at San Francisco. “It’s the one that is most likely to latch onto cells in a host, and it attacks that host better than the other variants, because it can replicate itself better.”

Why is the delta variant a concern?

Early research suggests the delta variant is about 50 percent more contagious than the alpha variant, which was first identified in the United Kingdom and became the predominant variant in the United States during the spring. Alpha was already about 50 percent more transmissible than the original variant of the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

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