UPDATED with latest: White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci revealed on Tuesday that the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 now makes up 20% of new infections in the country. That’s up from 10% about two weeks ago, according to CDC data.
He said Delta appears to be “following the same pattern” as Alpha, the more infectious variant first found in the U.K. After taking over as that country’s most widespread variant, Alpha moved across the Atlantic and has done the same in the U.S. Now, Delta — thought to be even more infectious — has outcompeted Alpha in the U.K. and seems headed to do the same in the U.S.
Indeed, the percentage of new U.S. cases comprised by the more transmissible Delta — which is also thought to cause more severe infections and be at least partially vaccine resistant — is doubling every two weeks, said Fauci.
“Similar to the situation in the U.K., the Delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19,” he said. Our greatest protection, Fauci said, are the vaccines. The Pfizer doses are thought to be 88% effective against Delta. Given that and the number of older Americans vaccinated, it is children who are most at risk from the new strain.
While kids were less easily infected during the early pandemic, now that most people over 50 in the U.S. have been vaccinated, younger people are more vulnerable than their elders. According to the CDC, 62% percent of Americans ages 50-64 are fully vaccinated. For those ages 65-74, the number fully vaccinated is 78%. But only 35% of 18-24 year olds are fully vaccinated. Among kids 0-11, for whom there is no approved vaccine, the number is effectively 0%.
In the U.K., said Fauci, young people are driving the surge. One study of 100,000 people there found a five-fold higher positivity rate among children 5-15 years old and among young adults 18-24, than among seniors 65+. While young people’s stronger immune systems may have protected them earlier in the pandemic, they seem much less effective against the highly-infectious Delta variant.
PREVIOUSLY on April 15: “We can now return to life as we know it,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he announced the state’s broad reopening on Tuesday. Those words were echoed at nearly the same moment by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who himself announced his state’s “full reopening” on Tuesday with the words, “We’ve turned the page.”
Other states are taking a similar tack. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Tuesday that his state would lift Covid prohibitions on July 4. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said on Monday that he was curtailing all remaining state pandemic restrictions as of midweek.
But those sunny proclamations came on the same day that the United States topped 600,000 Covid-related deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University, the macabre count stood at 600,039 early Tuesday. For comparison, there were an estimated 675,000 American lives lost to the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic. Deaths from the current pandemic have mounted past 600,000 despite the advent of modern medicine and infection controls, an actual understanding of the flu virus and, for the past few months, an actual vaccine.
One piece of good news on the fatality front is that, according to the Washington Post, the number of daily reported deaths has fallen about 28 percent.
The U.S. reopenings come one day after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed lifting restrictions on his country due to the rapid spread of the so-called Delta variant. That strain of Covid-19 is thought to be 60% more infectious and also more resistant to the current vaccines.
Johnson said the number of Delta variant cases in Britain was growing by about 64% per week and the total number of people in intensive care units was rising once again.
“By being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people,” he said.
Meanwhile in India, where the Delta variant was first recognized, there are fears of yet another wave of the virus as restrictions are eased after a strict month-plus lockdown. Scientists and doctors there are concerned because, according to Reuters, only about 5% of the country’s 950 million eligible adults have been inoculated.
The U.S. finally recognized the Delta variant as a “variant of concern” on Tuesday. Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday that the variant was “taking over” in Britain. “We cannot let that happen in the United States,” he insisted. The Delta variant currently accounts for 6% of U.S. cases.
PREVIOUSLY on April 7: U.S. Covid-19 have risen in the past three weeks, the Centers for Disease Control reported on Wednesday. CDC officials also reveealed that the more infectious variant first discovered in the U.K. — often called B.1.1.7 — has become the chief source of new infections in the country.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that B.1.1.7 is now dominant not just among the different variants, but over and above what had been called the “wild variant,” which has accounted for the majority of infections to date. “It is the most common lineage, period,” she said. See below for a CDC chart demonstrating the growth of B.1.1.7 over the wild variant in the U.S., known as B.1.2.
Walensky said last week she felt a sense of “impending doom.” That may have been prescient. While key data across the country is undeniably better than at any time during the winter surge, some of the numbers are beginning to swing in the wrong direction.
According to the New York Times, the U.S. is concerned about reports of increasing cases in and around childcare centers and youth sports teams. Hospitals are apparently seeing more people in their 30s and 40s with “severe disease” being admitted. The nature of the U.K. variant may be the cause.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first discovered in the UK is now the most common strain of the virus in the U.S. and urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible https://t.co/bgtKzwMyVs pic.twitter.com/XNVTsqRBVJ
— Reuters (@Reuters) April 7, 2021
The CDC says B.1.1.7 is not only 50% more transmissible, but is thought to be less susceptible to monoclonal antibody therapeutics and convalescent and post-vaccination sera, according to the CDC. Those are treatments used to address infections. In addition, B.1.1.7 is likely creating “increased severity based on hospitalizations and case fatality rates.” That may account for the rise in severe cases among younger patients, who are generally less well vaccinated than Americans over 50.
Outbreaks in Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois are under scrutiny, and numbers released by Los Angeles health officials this week indicate a rise of B.1.1.7 in the nation’s second-largest metropolis, as well.
The majority of samples genomically analyzed in Los Angeles County last week turned out to be variants of concern. That list was led by the U.K. variant.
While B.1.1.7 has been present in CA for months, its surge in L.A. is surprising because for at least the past four weeks the homegrown “West Coast” variant — B.1427/B.1429 — has predominated in the state by a very wide margin. Numbers in the chart below demonstrate that, with the total instances of West Coast variants identified in the county to date sitting at 415 and the number of U.K. variants identified to date at 169. That’s 42% of all tests coming back with as B.1427/B.1429 and 17% B.1.1.7.
The spread at the state level is even more pronounced. As of April 1, 851 cases of the U.K. variant had been reported in CA. That same report shows, however, that a total of close to 10,000 cases of the West Coast variants had been identified to date.
But last week in L.A., B.1.1.7 spiked to 64% of the variants detected. B.1427/B.1429 was at just 20%.
The “why” may lie in the CDC finding that, while the U.K. variant is 50% more transmissible, the West Coast variant is only 20% more so. The U.K. variant, then, may be outcompeting the less-infectious West Coast strain.
PREVIOUSLY on March 1: The United States crossed the 30 million Covid-19 case threshold on Wednesday, according to Reuters and the New York Times. The milestone comes spring break parties happen across the country and, according to Reuters, “cases are trending higher in 30 out of 50 states.”
Among those states, New York recorded the most significant spike in cases on Wednesday, according to data from the Washington Post. The Empire State had a 7-day rolling average of over 7,300 daily cases. Florida was next with over 4,600, followed by New Jersey with about 4,150 and Michigan with an average of about 3,750 daily cases.
Indeed, CDC Diretor Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on a White House Covid Response Team Zoom conference that “cases continue to increase slightly” across the U.S. On Wednesday, that number was about 55,000. This week’s 7-day rolling average vs. last week’s is up about 3%.
The U.S. on Wednesday had recorded about 545,000 deaths related to the virus.
WATCH NOW: Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky are joined by Andy Slavitt to share updates on the latest science, the state of the pandemic, and progress we’ve made in our vaccination program. https://t.co/ePVsNJBF6B
— White House COVID-19 Response Team (@WHCOVIDResponse) March 24, 2021
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