Bearing Witness to the Pandemic May 2022

This month US officially surpassed 1 million deaths due to COVID. President Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff and reminded Americans that the pandemic was not over. As if this number was not shocking enough, many health officials say the actual number is substantially higher. The US has the tragic distinction of having the worst death rate due to how the country handled the pandemic combined with the overall poor health and obesity status of its population. As the month begins, an average of 370 Americans are still dying of COVID every day.

In a new analysis of deaths in the US, it is estimated that over 300,000 of the 1 million deaths could have been prevented if more had been vaccinated and followed safety protocols to avoid becoming infected.  For some states in the South it is estimated that half the deaths could have been avoided.  Many believe that had the Trump administration acted faster, not suggested the virus would disappear in a matter of days, and Republicans not politicized public health measures or supported anti-vaccine extremists, many more thousands of lives could have been saved.

Using an analysis of global excess deaths, the WHO says that close to 15 million deaths have occurred around the world. This is nearly three times the official count and estimates from countries that reported their fatalities.

Case counts are once again beginning to rise in what may be the start of a 6th wave for much of the US. Other parts of the world, including China and South Africa, are already in their next wave. Europe started experiencing its 5th wave last month. New infections reported have nearly doubled in some US cities and states, mostly in New England, with an average of 70,000 new daily cases. The good news is that hospitalizations and deaths are not yet increasing.

The Biden administration has warned that there could be another 100 million new cases this year in the US, mostly from a surge this fall.

Over two years into the pandemic, the virus continues to surprise epidemiologists. New variants with not that different DNA are evading immune responses. This can produce multiple reinfections in the same populations, though thankfully not as serious for the vaccinated. Scientists don’t know yet whether reinfection risks higher risk of experiencing long COVID.

By mid-month, case counts continue to rise across the country, nearly doubling in some locales. Some schools in the Northeast are reverting back to mask mandates. Hospitalizations have increased by 20%, not because the current variant is more severe but because there are just more people becoming infected.

A new study from Canada has found that 1 in 9 patients hospitalized due to COVID end up being readmitted, or worse dying. In the US some 3.8 million adults had to be readmitted within 30 days of their original discharge, typically for lung and breathing distress.

Another sobering study in the US of over 2 million health records finds that 1 in 5 adults under 65 who are infected may suffer at least one symptom associated with long COVID. For those 65 and older, the odds are an alarming 1 in 4.  These include long-term ailments throughout the body in endocrine, heart, lung, kidneys, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, blood circulation, neurological, and mental health. COVID patients were found to have twice the risk of experiencing respiratory and lung problems alone.

A National Public Radio study of death records found that those living in counties which voted 60% or more for Republican Trump were over twice as likely to die from Coronavirus than residents in counties which voted for Democrat Biden. The analysis suggested that a denial of COVID, reluctance to get vaccinated, and disinformation were all contributing factors. In counties that voted strongly for Biden, over 80% were vaccinated while those that voted Trump averaged only 60% vaccination rates.

The FDA and CDC have given approval for kids 5-11 years old to receive a Pfizer booster shot that is one-third the dosage of adults. More than 350 children of that age group have already died from COVID. Previously, everyone 12 and over had been approved for at least one booster shot.

Public health officials in New York City, which is experiencing more than 4,000 cases per day, are debating renewed calls for indoor mask mandates. The city leads the nation in vaccination rates, with nearly 90% of adults fully vaccinated.

The month ends with official case counts in the US exceeding an average of 100,000 per day, nearly double from the end of last month. Some call the current surge a stealth surge because so many of those are testing positive at home and not reporting their status to local health officials.

Death rates have fallen to an average of 300 per day, the lowest since the pandemic begun. However, a worrisome trend is that fatality rates of those 65 and over, which had been steadily falling, have begun to rise. The latest highly contagious subvariants broke through protection from vaccines and as a result, while not deadlier, more seniors were infected and became seriously ill, resulting in more deaths. Another contributing cause is that more than half of vaccinated seniors received their last shot more than 6 months ago, lowering their protection as immunity waned. As a result, it is no longer simply a pandemic of the unvaccinated. In March about 40% of deaths due to COVID were those who had previously been vaccinated.

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 cumulative US death count.

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