POST 138. March 6, 2021. CORONAVIRUS. “New cases are decreasing in the third wave because we are past the holidays, not because of vaccinations. It is a common misconception that the decrease we are seeing in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. is due to vaccinations. The two aren’t related; at least yet.”

“Donald and Melania Trump received the coronavirus vaccine before leaving the White House, according to multiple news reports on Monday.” (A)

for links to POSTS 1-138 in chronological order, highlight and click on

“This week, President Joe Biden said that the US will have enough vaccine for every adult by the end of May, and a CNN analysis of federal data shows that herd immunity is likely not far behind…

At the current pace of about 2 million doses per day, including 100 million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 70% of the US population could be fully vaccinated around the end of July and 85% by mid-September, according to a CNN analysis.

The CDC estimates that more than a quarter of the population may have been infected by Covid-19, bumping the share of the population already protected up to nearly a third. Assuming there’s no overlap between people with natural immunity and those protected through vaccination, herd immunity could be reached as early as June.

Experts note that some new variants threaten progress, potentially lessening protection offered by vaccines and skirting some degree of natural immunity, and vaccine hesitancy may also create some limitations.” (B)

“The US risks a fourth surge of COVID-19 cases if people don’t follow public-health recommendations, according to the top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House pres briefing on Monday.

Walensky, the CDC’s director since January 20, said recent declines in cases in the US had been leveling off “at a very high number” of about 67,200 cases a day.

The figure is a 2% uptick compared with the previous week.

Walensky said she was “really worried” about states rolling back public-health measures recommended by the CDC.

“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close,” she said. “We have the ability to stop a potential fourth surge of cases in this country.”…

“Ultimately, vaccination is what will bring us out of this pandemic,” Walensky said.” (C)

“The U.S. may be on the verge of another surge in coronavirus cases, despite weeks of good news.

The big picture: Nationwide, progress against the virus has stalled. And some states are ditching their most important public safety measures even as their outbreaks are getting worse.

Where it stands: The U.S. averaged just under 65,000 new cases per day over the past week. That’s essentially unchanged from the week before, ending a six-week streak of double-digit improvements.

Although the U.S. has been moving in the right direction, 65,000 cases per day is not a number that indicates the virus is under control. It’s the same caseload the U.S. was seeing last July, at the height of the summer surge in cases and deaths.

What we’re watching: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday rescinded the state’s mask mandate and declared that businesses will be able to operate at full capacity, saying risk-mitigation measures are no longer necessary because of the progress on vaccines.

But the risk in Texas is far from over. In fact, its outbreak is growing: New cases in the state rose by 27% over the past week.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also scrapped all business restrictions, along with the state’s mask mandate, on Tuesday. New cases in Mississippi were up 62% over the past week, the biggest jump of any state.

The daily average of new daily cases also increased in eight more states, in addition to Mississippi and Texas….

What’s next: The bigger a foothold those variants can get, the harder it will be to escape COVID-19 — now or in the future.

The existing vaccines appear to be less effective against two variants, discovered in South Africa and Brazil, which means the virus could keep circulating even in a world where the vast majority of people are vaccinated.

And that means it’s increasingly likely that COVID-19 will never fully go away — that outbreaks may flare up here and there for years, requiring vaccine booster shots as well as renewed protective measures.

The bottom line: Variants emerge when viruses spread widely, which is also how people die.” (D)

“New cases are decreasing in the third wave because we are past the holidays, not because of vaccinations. It is a common misconception that the decrease we are seeing in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the U.S. is due to vaccinations. The two aren’t related; at least yet.

The decline in cases is likely a natural drop after record travel followed by indoor holiday gatherings triggered a surge in infections, said Dr. Sarita Shah, associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“We’ve seen these rises and falls in the COVID case counts now a few times, and they seem to really track along holidays or people’s movements,” Shah said.

COVID-19 symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear after exposure, and cases peaked exactly two weeks after the Christmas holidays, noted Brittany Baker, undergraduate program coordinator and clinical assistant professor at North Carolina Central University.

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said the falling case numbers can’t be attributed to the COVID-19 vaccine, because not even a tenth of the population has been vaccinated, according to the CDC.

“We’re vaccinating our most vulnerable populations right now, but once we start to move into the broad population, the population that’s driving the numbers … that’s when we’ll start to see an impact on the overall numbers,” Shah said.

She said Americans may start to see the vaccine’s influence on case numbers as early as the summer, but it will be more evident in the fall….

Even though vaccination plans for developed-world adults are firming up, the developing world and children are less clear. As long as the virus is circulating in humans anywhere, it will find new optimizations that will likely require vaccine alterations.

The more widespread infections remain globally, the more mutations will occur. A lingering pool of cases in poorer countries risks giving birth to resistant strains that force richer economies to lock down and start vaccinating all over again.

Taken together, it is probable that the world will have at least one more serious wave of infections this spring and summer – a fourth wave – before the inoculated and previously infected can crowd out those with no protection. Re-vaccination (booster shots) for new variants add to this timeline.” (E)

“Is this it, then? Is this the beginning of the end? After a year of being pummeled by grim statistics and scolded for wanting human contact, many Americans feel a long-promised deliverance is at hand….

Scientists call it the fourth wave. The new variants mean “we’re essentially facing a pandemic within a pandemic,” said Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The declines are real, but they disguise worrying trends.

The United States has now recorded 500,000 deaths amid the pandemic, a terrible milestone. As of Wednesday morning, at least 28.3 million people have been infected.

But the rate of new infections has tumbled by 35 percent over the past two weeks, according to a database maintained by The New York Times. Hospitalizations are down 31 percent, and deaths have fallen by 16 percent.

Yet the numbers are still at the horrific highs of November, scientists noted. At least 3,210 people died of Covid-19 on Wednesday alone. And there is no guarantee that these rates will continue to decrease.

“Very, very high case numbers are not a good thing, even if the trend is downward,” said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Taking the first hint of a downward trend as a reason to reopen is how you get to even higher numbers.”…

Buoyed by the shrinking rates over all, however, governors are lifting restrictions across the United States and are under enormous pressure to reopen completely. Should that occur, B.1.1.7 and the other variants are likely to explode.

“Everybody is tired, and everybody wants things to open up again,” Dr. Tuite said. “Bending to political pressure right now, when things are really headed in the right direction, is going to end up costing us in the long term.”

A fourth wave doesn’t have to be inevitable, scientists say, but the new variants will pose a significant challenge to averting that wave.

Looking ahead to late March or April, the majority of scientists interviewed by The Times predicted a fourth wave of infections. But they stressed that it is not an inevitable surge, if government officials and individuals maintain precautions for a few more weeks…

“The single biggest lesson I’ve learned during the pandemic is that epidemiological modeling struggles with prediction, because so much of it depends on human behavioral factors,” said Carl Bergstrom, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Taking into account the counterbalancing rises in both vaccinations and variants, along with the high likelihood that people will stop taking precautions, a fourth wave is highly likely this spring, the majority of experts told The Times.

Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, said he was confident that the number of cases will continue to decline, then plateau in about a month. After mid-March, the curve in new cases will swing upward again.

In early to mid-April, “we’re going to start seeing hospitalizations go up,” he said. “It’s just a question of how much.”

Summer will feel like summer again, sort of….” Combine vaccination with natural immunity and the human tendency to head outdoors as weather warms, and “it may not be exactly herd immunity, but maybe it’s sufficient to prevent any large outbreaks,” said Youyang Gu, an independent data scientist, who created some of the most prescient models of the pandemic.” (F)

“The US shouldn’t ease restrictions in place to prevent Covid-19 before the number of new coronavirus cases falls below 10,000 daily, “and maybe even considerably less than that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

The US should pull restrictions gradually, after a substantial portion of Americans are vaccinated, Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The last time the US saw fewer than 10,000 new daily cases was almost a year ago, on March 22, 2020. The number hasn’t fallen below 50,000 daily cases since mid-October, and the seven-day average on Wednesday was more than 64,000.

“We will be pulling back,” said Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser. “We’re now up to about 2 million vaccinations per day. That means every day that goes by, every week that goes by, you have more and more people protected.”

Fauci’s comments come as some states begin to pull back restrictions, including doing away with mask mandates, allowing businesses to fully open and increasing the number of people allowed at mass gatherings.

That is “inexplicable,” Fauci said earlier.

“I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you’re only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines — particularly when we’re dealing with anywhere from 55 (thousand) to 70,000 infections per day in the United States,” Fauci told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday…

Of particular concern to health experts is the B.1.1.7 variant which was first identified in the United Kingdom and has now been found in 46 US states, as well as in Puerto Rico and Washington, DC….

A person with that variant can infect 43% to 90% more people than the older versions of the virus, according to evidence published Wednesday by researchers the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Thursday that the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant was showing up in between 20% and 30% of the viruses obtained in surveillance checks in states including Florida, California and Georgia. Those figures — just 1%-2% four weeks ago — likely will double within 10 days, he said.

When that variant turned up in 50% in surveillance checks in parts of Europe and the Middle East, “we (saw) a major surge in (overall) cases” — and the same could happen in the US, he said.

“Everything that the governors are doing right now to relax all the public health recommendations that we’ve made are only going to be a major invitation of this virus to spread faster and farther,” Osterholm told CNN’s “New Day.”” (G)

“White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday noted the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa could “moderately to severely” reduce vaccine efficacy, and the P.1 variant found in Brazil may evade antibodies generated by previous infection or vaccination.

There are also new variants that have been discovered in the United States. Preliminary reports show that the B.1.427 variant found in California may be more transmissible than previous strains, Fauci said.

The infectious disease expert said earlier this week that U.S. officials are also taking the B.1.526 variant found in New York “very seriously,” raising the possibility that it could evade the protection of antibody treatments and vaccines.” (H)

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