Bearing Witness to the Pandemic March 2022

The month begins with the official global death count from COVID surpassing 6 million. Public health experts say the actual number is likely much higher, perhaps closer to 18 million, due to poor or misleading record keeping. Rates of infection in parts of Asia Pacific such as Hong Kong and New Zealand are still soaring.

In the US at the start of the month, the death toll is now near 950,000 with an average of over 1,500 still dying every day. The CDC estimates that some 140 million Americans have now been infected, whether they know it or not. That is not quite 50% of the country’s entire population.

A new study in the journal Nature reports that Covid may cause long term changes in the brain. Researchers found greater losses of tissue and gray matter in the brains of those who had been infected.

The pandemic is said to have caused nearly a third of all children from meeting reading benchmarks for their age and school grade. Every demographic has been affected, but children of color especially from low-income families have fared the worst.

The two-year anniversary of the WHO declaring a global pandemic was passed as the world entered into its third official year, though most public health experts say it likely began months before the WHO recognized it.

Now, two years later, the country where it originated is experiencing the largest surge in cases. The highly contagious Omicron variant is said to be responsible. Central portions of the country are under lockdown once again with transportation in and out shuttered.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have requested FDA approval to allow a fourth dose, a booster, be available to older adults. The justification is that while the 3rd booster, which for many adults is approaching over 6 months ago, still provides good protection against severe illness and death, it is not as good at warding off  infections that can then be transmitted to others who may not be vaccinated or could be immunocompromised.

Infections from the BA.2 variant now make up about a third of new infections in the US where officials expect yet another wave, albeit smaller than previous, this Spring.

COVID cases in the UK are up nearly 48% due to this same mutant surge. An increase in social gatherings, relaxed mask wearing, waning immunity from vaccination or previous infections, and a more transmissible virus are all said to be responsible.

Additional data confirms that the anti-science politicization of the pandemic, mostly in conservative red Republican states, has led those states to have higher rates of illness and death. As example, in Missouri the death rate was 20% higher than that of next-door Illinois.

Scientist have now found coronavirus in 29 different animal species that includes pets like dogs, cats, and hamsters as well as wildlife including deer, minks, mice, ferrets, tigers, hippos, and otters. Testing of the strains revealed that the animals were likely infected from contact with humans, including our habitats, trash and waste. It does not appear that animals are infecting humans. But researchers remain worried that a new variant could emerge from animals that jumps the barrier, much as the original infection from wildlife to humans likely occurred in Wuhan, China over two years ago.

Medical researchers have discovered that long-term COVID brain fog shares similarities with forms of chemo brain and Alzheimer’s disease. Both cause shrinkage of gray matter tissue in the brain that create cognitive changes. Scientists don’t yet know if these changes are temporary or permanent.

As a sign that the global pandemic is far from over, the largest outbreak in China continues well underway in its largest city, Shanghai. The government has ordered a two-stage lockdown for its over 25 million residents. Travel has been suspended as has public transportation. Residents must remain within their neighborhoods and all businesses that are not essential closed.

At the end of the month, the FDA with CDC support authorizes second mRNA-based booster shots from Pfizer and Moderna for adults 50 and older. It will also be approved as a fifth shot for the immunocompromised. Some controversy remains as to how many people will really benefit from yet another booster shot.

The above news items have been taken from a number of local, regional, national and international news media including print, broadcast, and digital sources, but no social media. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

The featured image is from the CDC COVID Data Tracker showing trends in the case counts.

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