Over the last year, COVID-19 has taught us painful lessons about the pitfalls of wishful thinking. Early in the pandemic, some people speculated that the virus would slow down over as the weather got warmer over the summer months; instead, the U.S. experienced a deadly wave of new cases. A few months ago, I hoped that here in Southern California, it would be easier for people to avoid spreading the virus than in colder parts of the country, because people can socially distance outdoors more easily year-round. Instead, our outbreak is now among the world’s deadliest—on Monday, California became the first state to report more than 3 million cases of the virus. Here in Los Angeles County, so many people are dying that officials temporarily lifted air quality regulations to permit more cremations, the Los Angeles Times reports.
California’s struggles to contain COVID-19 can at least partly be attributed to pandemic fatigue—after nearly a year of wearing masks and avoiding contact with others, people’s resolve is simply wearing thin. However, while we may feel done with the virus, it isn’t done with us—between 70 and nearly 120 people per 100,000 have died of COVID-19 in California every day in the last week, while more than 3,200 have died each day nationwide; the U.S. just today passed the grim milestone of 400,000 COVID-19 deaths.
If California can’t get its outbreak under control, more pain could lie ahead. Officials have discovered that new variants of the virus are spreading in the Golden State, including a more transmissible strain first identified in the U.K., where caseloads are skyrocketing and hospitals are overwhelmed. What’s happening here in California could be a bellwether for the rest of the country, as the virus continues its spread mostly unchecked across the country and world.
Regardless of which variant is spreading, experts say the defensive measures remain the same: we need to keep wearing our masks (new research shows just how effective they are), maintaining physical distance from others, and spend as much time as possible at home. It’s natural to want to give up—or even bend just a little—and spend time with friends and family we haven’t seen in ages, or do other risky things. That temptation is all the more real now that multiple highly effective vaccines are here, and the end of the pandemic seems within sight. But the vaccination process has gone frustratingly slowly so far, and not enough of us have the necessary protection to let our collective guard down, especially given the presence of at least one highly transmissible mutation.
With those alarming new variants spreading across the globe, it’s probably time to recalibrate our behavior in favor of safety—until more people are inoculated, it’s vital for us to reduce spread through other proven means. In the coming weeks, Californians and Americans elsewhere must buckle down, with their eyes on the final mission: ensuring that as many people as possible survive to see the end of the pandemic.
While 28.4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been shipped to various U.S. states as of this morning, only about 10.6 million doses have been administered thus far, according to TIME’s vaccine tracker—representing 3.2% of the overall U.S. population.
India launched its nationwide coronavirus vaccine rollout on Saturday, starting with healthcare workers, according to the New York Times. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the 1.3 billion-person country aims to vaccinate 300 million healthcare and other front line workers by July. More than 10.5 million people have been infected in India, and more than 152,500 people have died.
Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked Pfizer whether his state could purchase vaccines directly from the pharmaceutical company, thus bypassing the federal government. But Dr. Celine Gounder, who’s advising President-elect Joe Biden on the pandemic, said that such a strategy could create problems. “I think we’ve already had too much of a patchwork response across the states,” Grounder said in an interview with CNBC today; she also argued that Cuomo’s idea could create a bidding war among states for vaccines.
TODAY’S CORONAVIRUS OUTLOOK
The Global Situation
More than 95.5 million people around the world had been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. E.T. today, and more than 2 million people have died. On Jan. 18, there were 514,013 new cases and 9,276 new deaths confirmed globally.
Here’s how the world as a whole is currently trending:
Here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents:
And here is every country with over 1.5 million confirmed cases:
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, is pushing back on findings from an independent World Health Organization report that was critical of Beijing’s early response to the COVID-19 outbreak. China’s early lockdowns, Chunying said, helped reduce deaths and infections, Al Jazeera reports. Still, China has been criticized for failing to adequately disclose the scope and nature of the outbreak when it first began.
German leaders have agreed to extend a lockdown for businesses and schools until Feb. 14 and to require medical masks on public transportation, Reuters reports. While Germany is now reporting fewer than half as many new cases as it was a month ago, experts have raised concerns about new coronavirus variants that are thought to be more contagious, some of which have been detected in the country.
The Situation in the U.S.
The U.S. had recorded more than 24 million coronavirus cases as of 3 p.m. E.T. today. More than 400,000 people have died. On Jan. 18, there were 141,999 new cases and 2,422 new deaths confirmed in the U.S.
Here’s how the country as a whole is currently trending:
And here’s where daily cases have risen or fallen over the last 14 days, shown in confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.
President-elect Joe Biden plans to continue a travel ban on non-U.S. citizens from European countries and Brazil, reversing outgoing President Donald Trump’s order to end the ban on Jan. 26, six days into Biden’s presidency. Jennifer Psaki, Biden’s incoming press secretary, tweeted that the Biden administration plans “to strengthen public health measures around international travel.” A week ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered that almost all airline passengers must have a negative coronavirus test or proof of recovery before entering the U.S.
The United States on Tuesday passed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19, a stunning total that is only climbing as the crisis deepens.
The country is now averaging more than 3,000 coronavirus deaths every day, according to Johns Hopkins University data, more than the number of people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and the daily death toll has been rising. The effects of a surge in gatherings and travel over the holidays are now coming into focus.
The grim milestone of 400,000 deaths came on the last full day in office for President Trump, who has long rejected criticism of his handling of the pandemic.
The situation threatens to get even worse as a new, more contagious variant of the virus becomes more prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned last week that one of the new variants, first discovered in the United Kingdom, could be the predominant strain in the U.S. by March.
Vaccines offer hope, but it is crucial for the inoculation campaign to progress as quickly as possible to get as many people protected before the new variant takes greater hold.
The U.S. vaccination campaign has started slowly, though there are signs it is beginning to pick up some speed. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged a more aggressive federal role in the vaccination effort, including using the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up more vaccination sites.
In the short term, however, the country is in for a bleak period.
“I think we still have some dark weeks ahead,” she said.
The country passed 300,000 deaths in mid-December.
At the end of March, as the crisis was beginning, Trump said that if deaths are limited to between 100,000 and 200,000 “we all, together, have done a very good job.” The country has long ago exceeded those numbers.
The U.S. has by far the most COVID-19 deaths of any country in the world. Brazil follows with around 210,000, and India and Mexico are around 150,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
More than 124,000 people are in the hospital with coronavirus in the U.S., according to the COVID Tracking Project, though the number is starting to decline somewhat from a peak of over 130,000 about a week ago.
The spread of the more contagious variant, however, threatens to send that number spiking again.
“It took 12 weeks for the death toll to rise from 200,000 to 300,000. The death toll has leaped from 300,000 to almost 400,000 in less than five weeks,” The Post’s Marc Fisher, Lori Rozsa, Mark Kreidler and Annie Gowen report.
Yet despite the massive death toll and the changes to daily life caused by the pandemic, the individual deaths are largely invisible.
“Coronavirus victims who die in the hospital often spend their final days cut off from family and friends, their only human contact coming from medical personnel hidden behind layers of protective gear. Even those who die at home often decline in quarantine, keeping a lonely vigil over their body’s fight,” my colleagues write.
The numbers are expected to quickly rise. Rochelle Walensky, the incoming director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told “Face The Nation” on Sunday that she anticipated half a million deaths by mid-February.
“That doesn’t speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet- uncharacterized syndrome after they’ve recovered. We still yet haven’t yet seen the ramifications from holiday travel, holiday gathering in terms of high rates of hospitalizations,” Walensky added.
🚨New CDC warning: The highly contagious variant B.1.1.7 originally detected in the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.
Why it matters: The variant is estimated to be 30% to 50% more transmissible than other forms of the virus, threatening efforts to push the U.S. past its record high case count.
- The variant is in 12 states, but has been diagnosed in only 76 of the 23 million U.S. cases reported to date, the AP reports.
- It’s likely that the variant is more widespread than currently reported.
The big picture: Americans are exhausted and burned out, and COVID wariness is slipping.
- So far, the variants do not appear to be resistant to the existing vaccines or cause more severe disease.
- But the health care system is on the brink in places like Southern California.
- Another spike in cases could lead us to a very dark place.
The bottom line: There’s no evidence that this variant is transmitted differently, so keep up the masks and social distancing.
Go deeper … The coronavirus variants: What you need to know.
Most people who have recovered from Covid-19 have similar levels of immunity against future infection to those who received a coronavirus vaccine, a study by Public Health England found, offering early hope against fears of a short-lived immunity spurred on by reports of people catching the virus twice, though the researchers warn that those with immunity may still be able to carry and transmit the virus to others.
Naturally acquired immunity from a previous Covid-19 infection provides 83% protection against reinfection when compared with people who have not had the disease before, government researchers found in a study of more than 20,000 healthcare workers.
The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed for rigor by other scientists, shows that this protection lasts for at least five months and is at a level just below that offered by vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech (95%) and Moderna (94%) and significantly above that of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca (62%), though manufacturers don’t know for how long this immunity lasts.
The figures suggest reinfection is relatively rare — occurring in fewer than 1% of the the 6,614 people who had already tested positive for the disease — though the scientists warned that while “those with antibodies have some protection from becoming ill with Covid-19 themselves,” early evidence suggests that they can carry and transmit the virus to others.
“It is therefore crucial that everyone continues to follow the rules and stays at home, even if they have previously had Covid-19, to prevent spreading the virus to others,” Public Health England wrote.
The study will continue to follow participants for another 12 months to determine “how long any immunity may last, the effectiveness of vaccines and to what extent people with immunity are able to carry and transmit the virus,” as well as investigate the highly-contagious new variant of coronavirus spreading across the U.K..
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and Professor of Molecular Oncology at Warwick Medical School in England, said an important takeaway from the study is that we don’t yet know how long antibody protection will last outside of the five month window. He said it is “possible that many people who were infected during the first wave of the pandemic may now be susceptible to re-infection.” Young said it will be interesting to see whether people previously infected with Covid-19 and are subsequently vaccinated have “an even longer-lived protective immune response” and whether or not these findings hold true for the new virus variant currently spreading in the U.K..
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The information gathered from reinfection cases could prove important as the pandemic progresses, especially when it comes to designing and implementing an effective vaccination program and deciding whether to ease lockdown measures. Whether or not those who are immune to serious illness are capable of transmitting the infection to others will be a crucial deciding factor.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
It’s not yet clear for how long the protection provided by vaccines last. This will have to be studied over time, as with this case of natural immunity, and is something manufacturers are already doing. Moderna believes their vaccine offers at least a year’s protection against disease. Whether or not this protection prevents individuals from infecting others will also need to be figured out.
384,784. That’s how many people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S. since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins university. According to CDC projections, this figure is set to grow 25% in the next three weeks. At the moment, more than 23 million people have contracted the disease in the U.S..
At least 60 sitting members of Congress — more than one in 10 — have tested positive for the coronavirus or are believed to have had Covid-19 at some point since the pandemic began. The list includes 44 Republicans and 16 Democrats.
That’s a higher proportion than the general population. As of Wednesday, a bit fewer than one in 14 Americans are known to have had the virus, according to a New York Times database, though many more cases have probably gone undetected.
Five House members have reported positive tests since the attack on the Capitol last week, when many lawmakers were holed up in a secure location together and some refused to wear masks — a situation that angered several Democrats, including Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, one of those who has since tested positive. Congress’s attending physician warned members afterward that it was possible they were exposed while sheltering and recommended that they get tested.
Congress has struggled to stem the spread within its ranks in recent weeks. Most members who have tested positive have done so since the election in November, as coronavirus cases have surged across the country.
Representative Jake LaTurner, Republican of Kansas, said he received word just after the attack on the Capitol last Wednesday that he had tested positive, and did not return to the House floor for a vote early on Thursday.
Representative Gus Bilirakis of Florida and Representative Michelle Steel of California, both Republicans, were absent from the House floor when the mob entered the Capitol because each had received positive test results earlier that morning. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee, said on Sunday that he had tested positive after exposure to Mr. Bilirakis, with whom he shares a residence.
More than 4,400 people in the country died of the coronavirus on Tuesday, the day before lawmakers were set to charge President Trump with inciting last week’s violence at the Capitol.
As America slogs through this grimmest of winters, there is no relief in the daily tabulations of coronavirus-related deaths: More than 4,400 were reported across the United States on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database, a number once unimaginable.
Yet even as Covid-19 touches thousands of families, the nation is distracted by the political crisis gripping Washington in the last days of the Trump administration.
Tuesday’s death count, which set another daily record, represented at least 1,597 more people than those killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The U.S. death toll, already the world’s highest by a wide margin, is now about 20,000 shy of 400,000 — only a month after the country crossed the 300,000 threshold, a figure greater than the number of Americans who died fighting in World War II.
But much of the nation’s attention is focused on the fallout from the Capitol siege, prompted in part by President Trump’s efforts to prevent Congress from certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the November election.
On Wednesday, the House will vote to formally charge Mr. Trump with inciting violence against the country. House lawmakers have formally notified Vice President Mike Pence that they will impeach the president if Mr. Pence and the cabinet do not remove Mr. Trump from power by invoking the 25th Amendment.
As people in the country wait to see how Mr. Trump’s tenure will end, they have also focused on the stories of the five people who were left dead after last week’s rampage — in particular, the death of Brian D. Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was overpowered by the mob and struck on the head with a fire extinguisher.
“Brian is a hero,” his brother Ken Sicknick said. “That is what we would like people to remember.”
Each coronavirus death is no less painful to the families and friends who have lost loved ones. Among the latest victims are a revered basketball coach, a travel writer who loved country winters and an architect who had survived the Holocaust.
The health Secretary Alex M. Azar II tried to highlight the urgency of the crisis on Tuesday as the Trump administration said that it would release all available vaccine doses and instructed states to immediately begin inoculating every American 65 and older.
“This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation we face,” he said. “Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied.”
In the first week of 2021, roughly two people died from Covid-19 in the U.S. every minute, amid a struggling national vaccination effort, soaring coronavirus cases and the deadliest day of the pandemic yet.
According to data from the Covid Tracking Project, 19,418 people died from the disease in the first seven days of 2021.
The U.S. is the country hardest hit by the novel coronavirus — more than 4,000 people died on Thursday, the deadliest day yet of the pandemic, and over 355,000 people have died from the disease since the pandemic began.
Experts warn that things are likely to get worse before they get better as hospitals across the country are stretched to breaking point — hospitals in LA are reportedly rationing oxygen and many are running out of beds.
More than 132,000 Americans are currently admitted in hospitals for Covid-19-related care.
Widespread vaccination, which could help turn the tide against the virus, has failed to gain momentum and the U.S. is way behind its inoculation targets.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
President-elect Joe Biden has said he will release all available Covid-19 vaccine doses for immediate use upon taking office, ending Trump’s strategy of saving doses to ensure people have access to a recommended second shot. Some countries, such as the U.K., have decided to space out doses beyond what manufacturers recommend in a bid to provide as many people as possible with some degree of immunity. Experts are torn on the strategy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends the vaccines are distributed as intended, with a second shot after a 21 or 28 day gap. The British medical regulator, and more recently the World Health Organization, say the second shot can be delayed, although they do not agree on how long this should be.
Biden warned that the U.S. is falling “far behind” what is needed to control the pandemic. Trump’s approach would take “years,” he said.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
A highly infectious variant of coronavirus, first discovered in the U.K., could be circulating in the U.S.. At least 52 cases have been reported so far. Fortunately, scientists do not believe the variant is able to evade the recently-developed vaccines.