Chengdu locks down 21.2 million people as Chinese cities battle Covid-19

https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/01/chengdu-locks-down-21point2-million-people-as-chinese-cities-battle-covid-19.html

KEY POINTS

  • One of China’s biggest cities, Chengdu, announced a lockdown of its 21.2 million residents as it launched four days of citywide Covid-19 testing, as some of country’s most populous and economically important urban centers battle outbreaks.
  • All residents in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, were ordered to stay largely at home from 6 p.m. on Thursday, with households allowed to send one person per day to shop for necessities, the city government said in a statement.

The southwestern Chinese metropolis of Chengdu announced a lockdown of its 21.2 million residents as it launched four days of citywide Covid-19 testing, as some of the country’s most populous and economically important cities battle outbreaks.

Residents of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, were ordered to stay home from 6 p.m. on Thursday, with households allowed to send one person per day to shop for necessities, the city government said in a statement.

Chengdu, which reported 157 domestically transmitted infections on Wednesday, is the largest Chinese city to be locked down since Shanghai in April and May. It remained unclear whether the lockdown would be lifted after the mass testing ends on Sunday.

Other major cities including Shenzhen in the south and Dalian in the northeast have also stepped up Covid restrictions this week, ranging from work-from-home requirements to the closure of entertainment businesses in some districts.

The moves curtail the activities of tens of millions of people, intensifying the challenges for China to minimize the economic impact of a “dynamic-zero” Covid policy that has kept China’s borders mostly shut to international visitors and make it an outlier as other countries try to live with the coronavirus.

Most of the curbs are intended to last a few days for now, although two provincial cities in northern China have extended curbs slightly beyond initial promises.

Chengdu’s lockdown sparked panic buying of essentials among residents.

“I am waiting in a very long queue to get in the grocery near my home,” 28-year-old engineer Kya Zhang said, adding that she was worried about access to fresh food if the lockdown is extended.

Hwabao Trust economist Nie Wen said that because Chengdu acted quickly to lock down, it was unlikely to see a repeat of Shanghai’s two-month ordeal.

Non-essential employees in Chengdu were asked to work from home and residents were urged not to leave the city unless needed. Residents who must leave their residential compounds for hospital visits or other special needs must obtain approval from neighborhood staffers.

Industrial firms engaged in important manufacturing and able to manage on closed campuses were exempted from work-from-home requirements.

Sweden’s Volvo Cars said it would temporarily close its Chengdu plant.

Flights to and from Chengdu were dramatically curtailed, according to Flight Master data. At 10 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) on Thursday, it showed 398 flights had been canceled at Shuangliu Airport in Chengdu, with a cancellation rate of 62%. At Chengdu’s Tianfu Airport, 79%, or 725 flights, were canceled.

Shenzhen curbs

In Shenzhen, which has the third-highest economic output among Chinese cities, the most populous district Baoan and tech hub Nanshan suspended large events and indoor entertainment for a few days and ordered stricter checks of digital health credentials for people entering residential compounds.

Nanshan is home to internet giant Tencent and the world’s biggest dronemaker, DJI, among other major Chinese companies.

More than half of Shenzhen’s ten districts, home to over 15 million people, have ordered blanket closure of entertainment venues and halted or reduced restaurant dining for a few days, with curbs in two districts initially planned to be lifted by the end of Thursday.

Shenzhen authorities have largely avoided shutting down offices and factories as they did during a week-long lockdown in March.

Data on Thursday showed that Chinese factory activity contracted for the first time in three months in August amid weakening demand, while power shortages and fresh Covid-19 flare-ups disrupted production.

In Shanghai, schools reopened on Thursday after being closed for months.

Mainland China has reported no Covid death since May, leaving the death toll at 5,226.

How does monkeypox spread? An epidemiologist explains why it isn’t an STI and what counts as close contact

Monkeypox is caused by a virus that, despite periodic outbreaks, is not thought to spread easily from person to person and historically has not spurred long chains of transmission within communities. Now, many researchers are left scratching their heads as to why monkeypox seems to be propagating so readily and unconventionally in the current global outbreak.

The monkeypox virus typically spreads through direct contact with respiratory secretions, such as mucus or saliva, or skin lesions. Skin lesions traditionally appear soon after infection as a rash – small pimples or round papules on the face, hands or genitalia. These lesions may also appear inside the mouth, eyes and other parts of the body that produce mucus. They can last for several weeks and be a source of virus before they are fully healed. Other symptoms usually include fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue and headache.

I am an epidemiologist who studies emerging infectious diseases that cause outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics. Understanding what’s currently known about how monkeypox is transmitted and ways to protect yourself and others from infection can help reduce the spread of the virus.

How is this outbreak different from prior ones?

The current monkeypox epidemic is a bit unusual in a few ways.

First, the sheer scope of the current epidemic, with over 25,000 cases worldwide as of early August and in countries where the virus has never appeared, sets it apart from previous outbreaks. Monkeypox is endemic to specific areas in central and western Africa, where cases occur sporadically and outbreaks are usually contained and quickly burn out. In the current outbreak, global spread has been rapid. Young men, mostly ages 18 to 44, account for the majority of cases, and over 97% identify as men who have sex with men (MSM). Some superspreading events associated with air travel, international gatherings and multiple-partner sexual encounters contributed to early transmission of the virus.

Second, the way symptoms are appearing may facilitate spread among people who don’t yet know they are infected. Most patients reported mild symptoms without fever or swollen lymph nodes, symptoms that typically appear before a skin rash is visible. While most people do develop skin lesions, many reported having only a single papule that was often obscured inside a mucosal area, such as inside the mouth, throat or rectum, making it easier to miss.

A number of people reported no symptoms at all. Asymptomatic infections are more likely to go undiagnosed and unreported than those with symptoms. But it is not yet known how asymptomatic individuals may be contributing to spread or how many asymptomatic cases may be undetected so far.

Who is at risk of getting monkeypox?

For most people, the risk of getting monkeypox is currently low. Anyone who has prolonged, close contact with an infected person is at risk, including partners, parents, children or siblings, among others. The most common settings for transmission are within households or health care settings.

Because of sustained transmission within the community of men who have sex with men, they are considered an at-risk group, and targeted recommendations can help allocate resources and limit transmission. While monkeypox is spreading primarily among MSM, this does not mean that the virus will remain confined to this group or that it won’t jump to other social networks. The virus itself has no regard for age, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Anyone who comes into direct contact with the monkeypox virus is at risk of being infected. New cases are recorded daily, with additional countries and regions reporting their first cases and already affected countries observing a continued rise in infections.

As with most infections, other factors, such as the amount of viral exposure, type of contact and individual immune response, play a role in whether an infection takes hold.

Is monkeypox an STI?

While sexual encounters are currently the predominant mode of transmission among reported cases, monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted infection. STIs are spread primarily through sexual contact, while monkeypox can spread through any form of prolonged, close contact.

Close contact that transmits the monkeypox virus involves encounters that are typically more intimate or involved than having a casual conversation or standing next to someone in an elevator. Transmission requires exchange of mucosal fluids or direct contact with the virus in sufficient quantity to seed an infection. This could occur through physical contact during kissing or cuddling.

Because sexual encounters involve direct skin-to-skin physical contact where bodily fluids may be exchanged, these close encounters can transmit viruses more easily. Recently, monkeypox DNA has been detected in feces and various body fluids, including saliva, blood, semen and urine. But the presence of viral DNA does not necessarily mean that the virus can infect someone else. Transmission from these sources is still under investigation.

As the virus moves through populations, public health officials focus on getting the message out to the most at-risk and hardest hit communities about how to stay safe. Currently, breaking the transmission chain among sexual contacts is a priority, including but not limited to MSM communities. Targeted messaging is meant to protect the health of a specific group, not to stigmatize the intended audience.

Other modes of transmission may play a greater role outside the MSM community. Household transmission, where individuals may come into close contact with infected people or contaminated items, is one of the most common types of exposure. Research is ongoing into the potential airborne and respiratory droplet spread of monkeypox in the current situation.

Outbreaks are dynamic situations that evolve over time, which is why public health messages may change as the epidemic progresses. Not every outbreak looks or behaves the same way – even pathogens seen in previous outbreaks can be different the next time around. As researchers learn more about how the disease is transmitted and identify changes in patterns of spread, public health officials will provide updates about specific forms of contact, behaviors or other factors that could increase infection risk. While changing guidelines can be frustrating or confusing, keeping up to date with the latest recommendations can help you protect yourself and stay safe.

What do I do if I’ve been exposed to monkeypox?

Anyone who has been infected can help contain spread by isolating from others, including pets. Covering skin lesions, wearing a mask in shared spaces and decontaminating shared surfaces or items, such as bed linens, dishes, clothes or towels, can also reduce spread.

You can also help interrupt the transmission chain by participating in contact tracing, notifying public health officials of others who may have been exposed through you, which is a basic tenet and common practice of disease control.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has further guidance on how to control monkeypox spread in both household settings and shared living facilities.

Lastly, getting vaccinated as soon as possible can still protect you from severe illness even if you’ve already been infected.

U.S. declares public health emergency over monkeypox

The Biden administration has declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency — a move that gives officials more flexibility to tackle the virus’ spread.

Why it matters: New YorkCalifornia and Illinois all declared public health emergencies related to monkeypox in the last two weeks. The World Health Organization has already declared monkeypox a global emergency.

Details: Department of Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra made the announcement Thursday in a briefing on monkeypox.

  • Federal health officials can now expedite preventative measures to treat monkeypox without going through a full federal review, the Washington Post reports.

What they’re saying: “We’re prepared to take our response to the next level in addressing this virus,” Becerra said Thursday. “We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

  • Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the declaration will help “exploit the outbreak” and potentially increase access to care for those at risk.
  • Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator, said “today’s actions will allow us to meet the needs of communities impacted by the virus … and aggressively work to stop this outbreak.”

State of play: Dr. Robert Califf, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said the U.S. is “at a critical inflection point” in the monkeypox outbreak, requiring “additional solutions to address the rise in infection rates.”

  • There are 6,600 cases of monkeypox in the U.S. as of Thursday, Becerra said.
  • There were less than 5,000 cases of monkeypox last week, he added.

The big picture: Biden’s decision to declare monkeypox a public emergency allows him to raise awareness of the virus and unlock more flexibility for spending on ways to treat and tackle the virus.

  • About 20% of Americans are worried they’ll contract monkeypox, Axios previously reported. But there are still some gaps in Americans’ knowledge of the virus and how it impacts our population.

What’s next: U.S. health officials said that 800,000 monkeypox vaccine doses will be made available for distribution. But in hotspot states for the monkeypox outbreak, there’s a drastic disconnect between the number of doses that local health officials say they need versus what they have been allotted.

  • The U.S. will receive another 150,000 monkeypox vaccine doses in the strategic national stockpile in September, Dawn O’Connell, administrator at HHS’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response, told reporters Thursday. These were previously scheduled to arrive in October.

1 in 5 Americans fear they’ll get monkeypox

https://www.axios.com/2022/07/29/monkeypox-cases-virus-vaccine-us

About 20% of Americans are afraid they’ll soon contract monkeypox, but there are still some significant holes in the public’s understanding of the virus, according to a new survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The big picture: These early stages of monkeypox outbreaks aren’t nearly as dangerous as early COVID outbreaks were, but some of the challenges for public health officials — like educating people about a virus they’re not familiar with, and mobilizing vaccination efforts — are similar.

By the numbers: One in five Americans are worried about getting monkeypox in the next three months, the Annenberg survey found.

  • Nearly half are unsure whether monkeypox is less contagious than COVID, although 69% correctly identified the way it usually spreads (through close contact with an infected person).
  • Two-thirds said they either don’t think there’s a vaccine for monkeypox, or aren’t sure. (There is a vaccine. The Biden administration said Thursday that it’s allocating another 786,000 doses, on top of the more than 340,000 it distributed this month.)
  • Women were more worried about contracting monkeypox than men, even though the overwhelming majority of cases in the U.S. have been among men.

Between the lines: Memories of false assurances and mixed messaging about the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic are factoring into public sentiment on monkeypox, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg center.

  • “There is some suspicion scientists don’t know what they know, so that translates to higher worry,” Jamieson told Axios.

Misinformation and conspiracy theories are also a problem.

  • 12% of respondents in the Annenberg survey said they believe the monkeypox virus was probably or definitely created in a lab; 21% said they were not sure whether it was caused by exposure to a 5G signal.
  • The fact that the virus has so far spread primarily among men who have sex with men has also fueled widespread perceptions that it’s a sexually transmitted infection, which it is not.

What we’re watching: Perceptions of risk remain fluid and could shift if monkeypox finds new modes of transmission, or if it continues to affect children.

  • “If kids get it and there’s been no contact with individuals at risk, then you have a completely different situation than you have now,” Jamieson said.

Antibiotic-resistant infections rose in hospitals during pandemic, CDC data shows

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/covid-pandemic-rise-hospital-infections-antibiotic-resistant-cdc/627109/

Exterior of the Center for Disease Control headquarters is seen on October 13, 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dive Brief:

  • Hospital-acquired, antibiotic-resistant infections grew 15% from 2019 to 2020, according to data out Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Nearly 30,000 people died from infections associated with healthcare settings in the first year of the pandemic and about 40% were infected during a hospital stay, according to the CDC.
  • Personal protective equipment and staffing shortages; longer patient stays and use of devices like catheters and ventilators; and significant surges in antibiotic use contributed to the rise in infections, the CDC said.

Dive Insight:

The new data erases years of progress — from 2012 to 2017, hospital-acquired, antimicrobial-resistant infections fell 27%, according to data from the CDC.

Hospitals struggled to follow infection prevention and control guidance during the first year of the pandemic as they faced resource strains and treated sicker patients who needed longer stays. At the same time, hospitals boosted their use of antibiotics, reducing their effectiveness.

In many cases, patients who exhibited pneumonia-like symptoms at hospitals were given antibiotics as a first option even though they were infected with COVID-19. Antibiotics are not effective in treating COVID-19.

Nearly 80% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 from March to October of 2020 received an antibiotic, according to the CDC.

Antimicrobrial resistance testing was also down in 2020. The CDC’s AR lab network reported receiving 23% fewer testing specimens during 2020 compared to 2019. Due to the pandemic, some CDC progams that focused on antimicrobrial resistance were also repurposed to offer surge capacity COVID-19 testing, the report said.

Without infrastructure and preparedness, it warned, critical data could be “delayed again when the next threat emerges.”

“This setback can and must be temporary,” Michael Craig, director of the CDC’s antibiotic resistance coordination and strategy unit, said in a report analyzing the data.

“The best way to avert a pandemic caused by an antimicrobial-resistant pathogen is to identify gaps and invest in prevention to keep our nation safe,” he said.

“Superbug” infections and deaths rose in 2020

https://mailchi.mp/30feb0b31ba0/the-weekly-gist-july-15-2022?e=d1e747d2d8

While the world’s attention was focused on fighting COVID-19, antibiotic-resistant infections were spreading. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report finds that hospital-acquired infections and deaths from antimicrobial-resistant pathogens increased 15 percent in 2020, compared to 2019. COVID overwhelmed healthcare settings, shifting the focus of infection control resources, resulting in sicker patients with longer catheter and ventilator use, which increased infection risks. Plus, clinicians initially unsure of how to treat the new disease prescribed COVID patients antibiotics at unusually high rates, setting the stage for growing drug resistance.

The Gist: This uptick reverses years of progress made on reducing the number of superbug infections in hospitals. Prior to the pandemic, hospitals were becoming markedly safer places, with fewer hospital-acquired infections, adverse drug reactions, and poor procedural outcomes. 

As health systems exit COVID crisis mode, hospitals must renew their focus on these longstanding goals of the infection control agenda.

The summer of subvariants

As this summer heats up, so has the spread of the hot new version of COVID-19.

Why it matters: This subvariant of Omicron called BA.5 — the most transmissible subvariant yet — quickly overtook previous strains to become the dominant version circulating the U.S. and much of the world.

BA.5 is so transmissible — and different enough from previous versions — that even those with immunity from prior Omicron infections may not have to wait long before falling ill again.

What they’re saying: “I had plenty of friends and family who said: ‘I didn’t want to get it but I’m sort of glad I got it because it’s out of the way and I won’t get it again’,” Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine told Axios. “Unfortunately that doesn’t hold the way it once did.”

  • “Even this one bit of good news people found in the gloom, it’s like, ‘Sorry’,” Wachter said.

State of play: This week, the CDC reported BA.5 became the dominant variant in the U.S., accounting for nearly 54% of total COVID cases. Studies show extra mutations in the spike protein make the strain three or four times more resistant to antibodies, though it doesn’t appear to cause more serious illness.

  • Hospital admissions are starting to trend upward again, CDC data shows, though they’re still well below what was seen during the initial spread of Omicron.
  • It’s unclear whether that could be indicating an increase in patients in for COVID, or patients who happen to have COVID, Wachter said. “We’re up in hospitalizations around 20% but with a relatively small number of ICU patients,” Wachter said about COVID cases at UCSF.
  • In South Africa, the variant had no impact on hospitalizations while Portugal saw hospitalizations rise dramatically, Megan Ranney, academic dean at the Brown University School of Public Health told Axios.
  • “So the big unknown is what effect it’s going to have on the health care system and the numbers of folks living with long COVID,” she said.

Yes, but: “I’m certainly hearing about more reinfections and more fairly quick reinfections than at any other time in the last two and a half years,” Wachter said.

Zoom in: That is also largely the experience of the surge seen firsthand in New York City by Henry Chen, president of SOMOS Community Care, who serves as a primary care physician across three boroughs of the city.

  • With this particular variant, he said: “The symptoms are pretty much the same but a little bit more severe than the last wave. It’s more high fever, body ache, sore throat and coughing,” Chen said, adding his patient roster is mostly vaccinated.
  • But it is occurring among patients who’d gotten the virus only three or four months ago, he said.

The big picture: Another summertime wave of cases could prolong the pandemic, coming after many public health precautions were lifted and with available vaccines losing their efficacy against the ever-evolving virus.

The bottom line: The messaging isn’t to panic, but to understand the virus is likely spreading in local communities much more than individuals realize due to shrinking testing programs  and without the level of protection they might assume they have.

  • “If you don’t want to get sick, you still need to be taking at least some precautions,” Ranney said. “[COVID] is still very much among us.”

Omicron Is About To Make Americans Act Immorally, Inappropriately

A friend called me for medical advice two weeks ago. He’s single, in his thirties and generally healthy, but he’d developed a dry cough with mild congestion. After a self-administered Covid-19 test turned up negative results, he remained suspicious he could be infected.

He was set to fly west in a couple of days for a conference and dreaded the thought of infecting other passengers. I recommended a PCR test if he wanted to be more certain. When the lab results came back positive, he spent the next five days at home alone (per CDC guidance).  

If you were in his shoes, chances are you, too, would make a reasonable effort to avoid infecting others. In the near future, that won’t be the case.

Americans are playing it safe—for now

A whopping 91% of Americans no longer consider Covid-19 a “serious crisis.” Social distancing has reached a low point as public-health restrictions continue to ease up.

Yet, there’s still one aspect of the pandemic Americans are taking very seriously.

As a society, we still expect people who test positive for Covid-19 to stay home and minimize contact with others. As a result of these expectations, 4 in 10 workers (including 6 in 10 low-income employees) have missed work in 2022. Overall, the nation’s No. 1 concern related to Omicron is “spreading the virus to people who are at higher risk of serious illness.”

Most Americans are eager to move on from the pandemic, but those who are sick continue to avoid actions that may potentially spread the virus.

Call it what you will—group think, peer pressure or the fear of violating cultural taboos—people don’t want to put others in harm’s way. That’s true, according to polls, regardless of one’s party affiliation or vaccination status.

What’s immoral today will be appropriate tomorrow

Don’t get used to these polite and socially conscious behaviors. All of it is about to change in the not-distant future. Let me paint a picture of tomorrow’s new normal:

  • A factory worker tests positive over the weekend for Covid-19 and comes to work on Monday without a mask, informing no one of his infection. 
  • A vacationer with mild Covid-19 symptoms refuses to postpone her spa weekend, availing herself of massages, facials and group yoga classes.
  • A couple plans an indoor wedding for 200-plus, knowing the odds are likely that dozens of people will get infected and that some of those guests will be elderly and immunosuppressed.

These actions, which seem inappropriate and immoral now, will become typical. It’s not that people will suddenly become less empathetic or more callous. They’ll simply be adjusting to new social mores, brought about by a unique viral strain and an inevitable evolution in American culture

A crash course in a unique virus

To understand why people will behave in ways that seem so unacceptable today, you must understand how the Omicron variant spreads compared to other viruses.

Scientists now know that Omicron (and its many decimal-laden strains: BA.2, BA.2.12.1, BA.4, BA.5, etc.) is the most infectious, fastest-spreading respiratory virus in world history. The Mayo Clinic calls this Covid-19 variant “hyper-contagious.”

“A single case could give rise to six cases after four days, 36 cases after eight days, and 216 cases after 12 days,” according to a report in Scientific American. As a result, researchers predict that 100 million Americans will become infected with Omicron this year alone—via new infections, reinfections and vaccination breakthroughs. 

In addition to Omicron’s high transmissibility, the virus is also season-less. Whereas influenza arrives each winter and exits in the spring, Americans will continue to experience high levels of Covid-19 infection year-round—at least for the foreseeable future.

With its 60-plus mutations, immense transmissibility and lack of seasonality, Omicron is an exceptional virus: one that will infect not only our respiratory systems but also our culture.

Over time, Omicron’s unique characteristics will drive Americans to deny and ignore the risks of infection. In the near future, they’ll make decisions and take actions that they’d presently deem wrong.

A culture shock is coming

Culture—which comprises the shared values, norms and beliefs of a group of people—doesn’t change because someone decides it should. It evolves because circumstances change. 

The pandemic has no doubt been a culture-changing event and, as the circumstances of Covid-19 have changed, so too have our underlying values, beliefs and behaviors.

If 100 million Americans (one-third of the population) were to become infected with Omicron this year, we can expect that everyone will know someone with the disease. And when dozens of our friends or colleagues say they’ve had it, we will begin to see transmission as inevitable. And since, statistically, most Americans won’t die from Omicron, people will see infection as relatively harmless and they’ll be willing to drop their guard.

We’ll see more and more people going to work even when they’re infected. We’ll see more people on trains and planes, coughing and congested, having never taken a Covid-19 test. And we’ll see large, indoor celebrations taking place without any added safety measures, despite the risks to the most vulnerable attendees.

Amid these changes, health officials will continue to urge caution, just as they have for more than two years. But it won’t make a difference. Culture eats science for breakfast. Americans will increasingly follow the herd and stop heeding public-safety warnings.

The process of change has begun

Cultural shifts happen in steps. First, a few people break the rules and then others follow.

Recall my friend, the one who took two tests out of an abundance of caution. Next time, perhaps he’ll decide he’d rather not miss the conference. Perhaps when he returns home, he will tell his friends that he felt sick the whole trip. Perhaps they’ll ask, “Do you think you might have had Covid?” And perhaps he will reply: “What difference would it have made? I’m fully vaccinated and boosted.

And so, it will go. The next time someone in his social circle feels under the weather, he or she won’t even bother to do the first test.

This change process has already begun. Take the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, for example. Last year, the event was cancelled. This year, guests had to show proof of vaccination or a negative same-day test. However, that rule didn’t apply to staff at the hotel who worked the event. Unsurprisingly, several high-profile attendees got Covid-19 but, so far, no reports of anyone being hospitalized. A year from now, assuming no major mutations cause the virus to become more lethal, we can expect all restrictions will be dropped.

Culture dictates how people behave. It influences their thoughts and actions. It alters their values and beliefs. The unique characteristics of Omicron will lead people to ignore the harm it inflicts. They won’t act with malicious intent. They’ll just be oblivious to the consequences of their actions. That’s how culture works.

Coronavirus has infected majority of Americans

But officials caution that people should not presume they have protection against the virus going forward.

Before omicron, one-third of Americans had been infected with the coronavirus, but by the end of February, that rate had climbed to nearly 60 percent — including about 75 percent of kids and 60 percent of people age 18 to 49according to federal health data released Tuesday.

The data from blood tests offers the first evidence that over half the U.S. population, or 189 million people have been infected at least once since the pandemic began — double the number reflected in official case counts. Officials cautioned, however, that the data, in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, does not indicate people have protection against the virus going forward, especially against increasingly transmissible variants.

“We continue to recommend that everyone be up to date on their vaccinations, get your primary series and booster, when eligible,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing.

Kristie Clarke, the CDC official who authored the report, said by February, “evidence of previous COVID-19 infections substantially increased among every age group, likely reflecting the increase in cases we noted as omicron surged in this country.”

Clarke said the greatest increases took place in those with the lowest levels of vaccination, noting that older adults were more likely to be fully vaccinated.

The largest increases were in children and teenagers through age 17 — about 75 percent of them had been infected by February, based on blood samples that look at antibodies developed in response to a coronavirus infection but not in response to vaccination. That’s about 58 million children.

The blood test data suggests 189 million Americans had covid-19 by end of February, well over double the 80 million cases shown by The Washington Post case tracker, which is based on state data of confirmed infections. Clarke said that’s because the blood tests captures asymptomatic cases and others that were never confirmed on coronavirus tests.

With the omicron surge, officials had expected there would be more infections. “But I didn’t expect the increase to be quite this much,” Clarke added.

Separately, CDC is about to publish another study that estimates three infections for every reported case, she said.

A covid surge in Western Europe has U.S. bracing for another wave

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/03/16/covid-ba2-omicron-surge/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F36559b9%2F62320b1e9d2fda34e7d4e992%2F5b63a342ade4e2779550ca1b%2F9%2F73%2F62320b1e9d2fda34e7d4e992

A surge in coronavirus infections in Western Europe has experts and health authorities on alert for another wave of the pandemic in the United States, even as most of the country has done away with restrictions after a sharp decline in cases.

Infectious-disease experts are closely watching the subvariant of omicron known as BA.2, which appears to be more transmissible than the original strain, BA.1, and is fueling the outbreak overseas.

Germany, a nation of 83 million people, saw more than 250,000 new cases and 249 deaths Friday, when Health Minister Karl Lauterbach called the nation’s situation “critical.” The country is allowing most coronavirus restrictions to end Sunday, despite the increase. The United Kingdom had a seven-day average of 65,894 cases and 79 deaths as of Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center. The Netherlands, home to fewer than 18 million people, was averaging more than 60,000 cases the same day.

In all, about a dozen nations are seeing spikes in coronavirus infections caused by BA.2, a cousin of the BA.1 form of the virus that tore through the United States over the past three months.

In the past two years, a widespread outbreak like the one now being seen in Europe has been followed by a similar surge in the United States some weeks later. Many, but not all, experts interviewed for this story predicted that is likely to happen. China and Hong Kong, on the other hand, are experiencing rapid and severe outbreaks, but the strict “zero covid” policies they have enforced make them less similar to the United States than Western Europe.

A number of variables — including relaxed precautions against viral transmission, vaccination rates, the availability of antiviral medications and natural immunity acquired by previous infection — may affect the course of any surge in the United States, experts said.

Most importantly, it is unclear at this point how many people will become severely ill, stressing hospitals and the health-care system as BA.1 did.

Another surge also may test the public’s appetite for returning to widespread mask-wearing, mandates and other measures that many have eagerly abandoned as the latest surge fades and spring approaches, experts said.

“It’s picking up steam. It’s across at least 12 countries … from Finland to Greece,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego, who recently posted charts of the outbreak on Twitter. “There’s no question there’s a significant wave there.”

Topol noted that hospitalizations for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, are rising in some places as well, despite the superior vaccination rates of many Western European countries.

At a briefing Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said about 35,000 cases of BA.2 have been reported in the United States to date. But she offered confidence that “the tools we have — including mRNA vaccines, therapeutics and tests — are all effective tools against the virus. And we know because it’s been in the country.”

Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email Tuesday that “although the BA.2 variant has increased in the United States over the past several weeks, it is not the dominant variant, and we are not seeing an increase in the severity of disease.”

The seven-day average of cases in the United States fell 17.9 percent in the past week, according to data tracked by The Washington Post, while the number of deaths dropped 17.2 percent and hospitalizations declined 23.2 percent.

Predicting the future course of the virus has proved difficult throughout the pandemic, and the current circumstances in Europe elicited a range of opinions from people who have closely tracked the pathogen and the disease it causes.

In the United States, just 65.3 percent of the population, 216.8 million people, are fully vaccinated, and only 96.1 million have received a booster shot, according to data tracked by The Post. In Germany, nearly 76 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Johns Hopkins data, and the United Kingdom has fully vaccinated 73.6 percent.

That lower vaccination rate is very likely to matter as BA.2 spreads further in the United States, especially in regions where it is significantly lower than the national rate, several experts said. And even for people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot, research data is showing that immunity to the virus fades over time. Vaccine-makers Pfizer and BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday for emergency authorization to offer a fourth shot to people 65 and older.

Any place you have relatively lower vaccination rates, especially among the elderly, is where you’re going to see a bump in hospitalizations and deaths from this,” said Céline Gounder, an infectious-diseases physician and editor at large for public health at Kaiser Health News.

Similarly, as the public sheds masks — every state has dropped its mask mandate or announced plans to do so — another layer of protection is disappearing, several people tracking the situation said.

“Why wouldn’t it come here? Are we vaccinated enough? I don’t know,” said Kimberly Prather, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and an expert on aerosol transmission at the University of California at San Diego.

“So I’m wearing my mask still. … I am the only person indoors, and people look at me funny, and I don’t care.”

Yet BA.2 appears to be spreading more slowly in the United States than it has overseas, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Debbie Dowell, chief medical officer for the CDC’s covid-19 response, said in a briefing Saturday for clinicians sponsored by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

“The speculation I’ve seen is that it may extend the curve going down, case rates from omicron, but is unlikely to cause another surge that we saw initially with omicron,” Dowell said.

One reason for that may be the immunity that millions of people acquired recently when they were infected with the BA.1 variant, which generally caused less-severe illness than previous variants. Yet no one really knows whether infection with BA.1 offers protection from BA.2.

“That’s the question,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “Better yet, how long does it provide protection?

Topol said the United States needs to improve its vaccination and booster rates immediately to protect more of the population against any coming surge.

“We have got to get the United States protected better. We have an abundance of these shots. We have to get them into people,” he said.

Biden administration officials said that whatever the further spread of BA.2 brings to the United States, the next critical step is to provide the $15.6 billion in emergency funding that Congress stripped from a deal to fund the government last week. That money was slated to pay for coronavirus tests, more vaccines and antiviral medications.

“That means that some programs, if we don’t get funding, could abruptly end or need to be pared back, Psaki said at Monday’s briefing. “And that could impact how we are able to respond to any variant.”