‘Impending doom’: Why the US is facing a new coronavirus wave despite one of the world’s best vaccine programmes

Reprint

By Jamie Johnson, US correspondent, Washington 30 March 2021

Hospitalisations are increasing and deaths are multiplying from the disease that has already killed 550,000 people in the US By Jamie Johnson, US correspondent, Washington 30 March 2021

Joe Biden, the US President, has urged states to pause their reopening efforts after a senior health official warned of the “impending doom” of a deadly third wave of coronavirus cases.

Despite a hugely successful vaccine programme – one in six Americans is already fully inoculated – cases are rising, hospitalisations are increasing, and deaths are multiplying from the disease that has already killed 550,000 people in the United States.

“We still are in a war with this deadly virus and we’re bolstering our defences. But this war is far from won,” said Mr Biden.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US public health agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), appeared to fight back tears on Thursday as she said: “I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.

“We have so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared”.

As Boris Johnson warns that a third wave in the UK is still a risk, despite a successful vaccine programme, the US may be used as a barometer for how the situation in Britain could evolve.

How is the US vaccine rollout programme progressing?

While his administration ramps up its drive to administer jabs as quickly as possible, Mr Biden has said that 90 per cent of US adults would be eligible for vaccination by April 19, and 90 per cent of Americans would have a vaccination centre within five miles of their homes by then.

So far, 145,812,835 vaccine doses have been administered and 15.8 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

On Monday, Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma made all adults eligible for vaccination. New York said that all adults would be eligible starting April 6.

Mr Biden had pledged to administer 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office. That goal has since been revised to 200 million after the first was met within 60 days.

With more than 2.5 million jabs a day, it is widely accepted that the rollout is going well.

What is going wrong?

The number of new coronavirus cases jumped by seven per cent over the past week to a seven-day average of around 60,000 cases, according to the CDC.

Data from the New York Times shows that in nine states over the past two weeks, virus cases have risen more than 40 per cent.

Connecticut reported a 62 per cent jump over the past two weeks, and New York and Pennsylvania both reported increases of more than 40 percent.

Michigan saw a 133 per cent increase – and epidemiologists have pointed to indoor dining restarting on February 1 as being a possible root cause.

In Florida, which has started welcoming tourists, the situation is worsening.

Spring Breakers were forced to be inside by 8pm as the young partygoers appeared to give up on social distancing and mask-wearing in Miami during the holidays.

In Orange County, Orlando, the average age for new infections has dropped to 30 and one in three people hospitalised is under 45.

Spring breakers flock to Florida beaches
Spring Breakers were forced to be inside by 8 pm Credit: REUTERS

But there is a wider problem at play.

Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8 per cent from its average two weeks earlier.

Worryingly for the UK, the Kent strain is also rising exponentially in Florida, where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to the CDC.

Case Study: Texas

Fewer restrictions do not automatically mean more cases, data from Texas appears to show.

In a controversial move on March 2, Governor Greg Abbott ended the state’s restrictions despite Texas recording about as many cases per day as the UK on average and having a population less than half the size.

“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING. I also ended the statewide mask mandate.”

Mr Biden called it “irresponsible”

But the latest figures show that they may have got it right. According to New York Times data, over the past two weeks coronavirus infections in Texas have declined 17 per cent, deaths have declined 34 per cent and hospitalisations have declined 25 per cent.

One note of caution, however, is that the seven-day average of newly reported coronavirus infections was up on Sunday to 3,774. Last Wednesday, the average case count was at a low of 3,401.

What is being done to stop the spread?

The speedy vaccine operation is not moving fast enough to stop the spread of the virus and the President has criticised the “neanderthal thinking” of some state governors who have dropped the requirements for people to wear masks.

“The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place,” said Mr Biden.

“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate.

Asked if states should pause re-opening efforts, Mr Biden said “yes.”

It is yet to be seen if the states will listen.

Mr. Biden has got off to a strong start and is polling well because he has tackled the two most pressing issues for Americans head-on – the economy and the pandemic.

A $1.9 trillion (with a T) relief package has seen cheques for $1,400 sent to the vast majority of households to help cover lost income and pay the bills, while the vaccine programme is moving at a pace.

Much as in the UK, American health officials have told the public to “stick with it.”

“I know you all so badly want to be done,” said Dr Walensky. “We are just almost there, but not quite yet.”

What could the UK learn?

The US has not had a slow-release – each state taking forging its own path out of lockdown. That is why the data looks different in some areas. But of those where public spaces are opened, the general correlation is that cases have again risen.

“Because the government has allowed some things to open up, people have viewed that as a good thing to do,” Dawn Misra, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University told the New York Times.

“This is a really tricky part of public health messaging. Just because you’re allowed to be in restaurants and other places do not mean they are safe.”

This should give the UK pause for thought.

In the UK, things are moving in the right direction. Sunday had the lowest number of newly recorded cases in six months, while there were no Covid-related deaths in the capital.

But the prospect of continued success may not remain in the Prime Minister’s hands.

A third wave

Boris Johnson said that Britain needs to “build our defences” against a third wave brewing in Europe for “when it comes” to the UK.

“What we don’t know is exactly how strong our fortifications now are, how robust our defences are against another wave,” he said, ominously.

Europe is struggling with the vaccine rollout, and cases are rising again.

Paris and parts of northern and southern France are one week into a lockdown which will last at least four weeks, in an attempt to stem a third Covid wave fuelled by contagious variants.

Italy and Germany have tightened their borders.

In the US, a third wave is also bubbling under the surface, as explained by the number of rising cases, even in states where masks and social restrictions are still stringent.

As restrictions lift the UK and the US will be relying on their vaccine programmes outrunning the new variants. Whether they can remains to be seen.

Joe Biden finished his press conference on Monday by saying: “Fight to the finish. Don’t let up now.”

In a tweet on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “The vaccine is our best route out of this pandemic and we must all do our part by taking the vaccine when it is offered to us.”

Major Israeli study finds Pfizer jab 94 percent effective in ‘real world’ use
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/major-israeli-study-finds-pfizer-jab-94-per-cent-effective-real/

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Reprint

By Jamie Johnson, US correspondent, Washington 30 March 2021

Hospitalisations are increasing and deaths are multiplying from the disease that has already killed 550,000 people in the US By Jamie Johnson, US correspondent, Washington 30 March 2021

Joe Biden, the US President, has urged states to pause their reopening efforts after a senior health official warned of the “impending doom” of a deadly third wave of coronavirus cases.

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Despite a hugely successful vaccine programme – one in six Americans is already fully inoculated – cases are rising, hospitalisations are increasing, and deaths are multiplying from the disease that has already killed 550,000 people in the United States.

“We still are in a war with this deadly virus and we’re bolstering our defences. But this war is far from won,” said Mr Biden.

Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the US public health agency, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), appeared to fight back tears on Thursday as she said: “I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom.

“We have so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared”.

As Boris Johnson warns that a third wave in the UK is still a risk, despite a successful vaccine programme, the US may be used as a barometer for how the situation in Britain could evolve.

How is the US vaccine rollout programme progressing?

While his administration ramps up its drive to administer jabs as quickly as possible, Mr Biden has said that 90 per cent of US adults would be eligible for vaccination by April 19, and 90 per cent of Americans would have a vaccination centre within five miles of their homes by then.

So far, 145,812,835 vaccine doses have been administered and 15.8 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

On Monday, Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma made all adults eligible for vaccination. New York said that all adults would be eligible starting April 6.

Mr Biden had pledged to administer 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days in office. That goal has since been revised to 200 million after the first was met within 60 days.

With more than 2.5 million jabs a day, it is widely accepted that the rollout is going well.

What is going wrong?

The number of new coronavirus cases jumped by seven per cent over the past week to a seven-day average of around 60,000 cases, according to the CDC.

Data from the New York Times shows that in nine states over the past two weeks, virus cases have risen more than 40 per cent.

Connecticut reported a 62 per cent jump over the past two weeks, and New York and Pennsylvania both reported increases of more than 40 percent.

Michigan saw a 133 per cent increase – and epidemiologists have pointed to indoor dining restarting on February 1 as being a possible root cause.

In Florida, which has started welcoming tourists, the situation is worsening.

Spring Breakers were forced to be inside by 8pm as the young partygoers appeared to give up on social distancing and mask-wearing in Miami during the holidays.

In Orange County, Orlando, the average age for new infections has dropped to 30 and one in three people hospitalised is under 45.

Spring breakers flock to Florida beaches
Spring Breakers were forced to be inside by 8 pm Credit: REUTERS

But there is a wider problem at play.

Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8 per cent from its average two weeks earlier.

Worryingly for the UK, the Kent strain is also rising exponentially in Florida, where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to the CDC.

Case Study: Texas

Fewer restrictions do not automatically mean more cases, data from Texas appears to show.

In a controversial move on March 2, Governor Greg Abbott ended the state’s restrictions despite Texas recording about as many cases per day as the UK on average and having a population less than half the size.

“I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING. I also ended the statewide mask mandate.”

Mr Biden called it “irresponsible”

But the latest figures show that they may have got it right. According to New York Times data, over the past two weeks coronavirus infections in Texas have declined 17 per cent, deaths have declined 34 per cent and hospitalisations have declined 25 per cent.

One note of caution, however, is that the seven-day average of newly reported coronavirus infections was up on Sunday to 3,774. Last Wednesday, the average case count was at a low of 3,401.

What is being done to stop the spread?

The speedy vaccine operation is not moving fast enough to stop the spread of the virus and the President has criticised the “neanderthal thinking” of some state governors who have dropped the requirements for people to wear masks.

“The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place,” said Mr Biden.

“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate.

Asked if states should pause re-opening efforts, Mr Biden said “yes.”

It is yet to be seen if the states will listen.

Mr. Biden has got off to a strong start and is polling well because he has tackled the two most pressing issues for Americans head-on – the economy and the pandemic.

A $1.9 trillion (with a T) relief package has seen cheques for $1,400 sent to the vast majority of households to help cover lost income and pay the bills, while the vaccine programme is moving at a pace.

Much as in the UK, American health officials have told the public to “stick with it.”

“I know you all so badly want to be done,” said Dr Walensky. “We are just almost there, but not quite yet.”

What could the UK learn?

The US has not had a slow-release – each state taking forging its own path out of lockdown. That is why the data looks different in some areas. But of those where public spaces are opened, the general correlation is that cases have again risen.

“Because the government has allowed some things to open up, people have viewed that as a good thing to do,” Dawn Misra, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University told the New York Times.

“This is a really tricky part of public health messaging. Just because you’re allowed to be in restaurants and other places do not mean they are safe.”

This should give the UK pause for thought.

In the UK, things are moving in the right direction. Sunday had the lowest number of newly recorded cases in six months, while there were no Covid-related deaths in the capital.

But the prospect of continued success may not remain in the Prime Minister’s hands.

A third wave

Boris Johnson said that Britain needs to “build our defences” against a third wave brewing in Europe for “when it comes” to the UK.

“What we don’t know is exactly how strong our fortifications now are, how robust our defences are against another wave,” he said, ominously.

Europe is struggling with the vaccine rollout, and cases are rising again.

Paris and parts of northern and southern France are one week into a lockdown which will last at least four weeks, in an attempt to stem a third Covid wave fuelled by contagious variants.

Italy and Germany have tightened their borders.

In the US, a third wave is also bubbling under the surface, as explained by the number of rising cases, even in states where masks and social restrictions are still stringent.

As restrictions lift the UK and the US will be relying on their vaccine programmes outrunning the new variants. Whether they can remains to be seen.

Joe Biden finished his press conference on Monday by saying: “Fight to the finish. Don’t let up now.”

In a tweet on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “The vaccine is our best route out of this pandemic and we must all do our part by taking the vaccine when it is offered to us.”

Major Israeli study finds Pfizer jab 94 percent effective in ‘real world’ use
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/major-israeli-study-finds-pfizer-jab-94-per-cent-effective-real/