Bearing Witness to the Pandemic July 2022

Global health experts estimate that vaccines have saved the lives of nearly 20 million people around the world with 2 million of these in the US. Officially, there have been 6.3 million deaths due to the virus, which many officials think is a gross underestimate.

The BA.5 variant continues to spread around the world and has become dominant in the US, resulting in the majority of new infections. As a result, officials are considering expanding eligibility for a second booster to adults younger than 50.  However, only about a quarter of seniors have taken advantage of a second booster, which would be their fourth shot. The good news is that the variant does not appear to cause serious illness in the vaccinated or to be any more deadly.

Yet another super contagious Omicron variant has arisen, this time in India. The variant, BA.2.75 is spreading more rapidly as it appears to evade immunity from previous infections and vaccinations.

The number of official new cases in the US is holding steady at about 100,000 per day. Experts continue to warn that the actual number is much higher with so many testing positive at home but without reporting it to their local health agencies.

An average of 40,000 remain in hospitals each day due to COVID and its complications, with nearly 400 deaths occurring each day. This compares to the worst days of the pandemic where 160,000 were hospitalized with 3,000 dying each day. At one time, nearly 20% of all those who were so sick they required hospitalization had to be put on ventilators. Now the average is about 5%.

Yet, the public at large and public health agencies seemed to be moving on. Few people are voluntarily wearing masks or social distancing. In the close confinement of airplanes, it is common to see only 1 out of every 10 passengers with masks one. Federal, state, and local government bodies are reluctant to enforce another round of mandates and are issuing relatively mild warnings.

One reason is feat it may overwhelm the public now that the Monkeypox virus is spreading rapidly across the US with over 5,000 confirmed cases.

The FDA has authorized another vaccine in the US, this one from Novavax. This vaccine is unlike that from Pfizer or Moderna in that it is not based on mRNA technology but is protein-based.

Officials are debating the need to tweak mRNA vaccines for a fall booster campaign when the next wave is likely to begin. Recent studies have found that the original vaccines were only about half as strong against Omicron variants as the previous Delta mutant. One of the advantages of a mRNA type vaccine is that it can be altered quickly to fight against genetic variations, unlike traditional vaccines such as those for influenza which can take a year to formulate and produce.

More and more reinfections are being reported. While most of the illnesses are mild, medical scientists are unsure how likely repeat reinfections are to trigger long COVID health problems. Officials are still studying why some people, even those who are vaccinated, are more prone to reinfection.

President Biden upon returning from his international trip has been infected with COVID-19, despite being fully vaccinated and double boosted. He reports mild symptoms similarly experienced by most others who have been vaccinated: a runny nose, dry cough, and fatigue. A week later after resting and taking Paxlovid, thankfully his condition was improving.

Nearly a thousand children around the world have experienced unexplained acute hepatitis and liver inflammation. Doctors currently believe that another adenovirus is to blame but are unsure if previous exposure to or inflammation from the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus created circumstances that triggered the reaction to the suspect adenovirus. They are confident though that COVID vaccines are not the cause due to the large number of children with hepatitis who were not vaccinated.

China, which has a zero-tolerance policy for COVID, has once again imposed mass testing for millions of residents of its largest cities. The country is reporting 500-1,000 new cases per day, compared to 100 times that for the US which has given up mandates.

A new study has found that due largely to the pandemic some children are years behind in their elementary education levels and may never recover. Hardest hit were Black, Hispanic and Native American students from low-income families, many who lost a year of in-class instruction. This despite the federal government providing states with nearly $200B pandemic recovery funding to schools.

The term “anthropause” has been coined to describe how nature and wildlife changed during the months that most of the world was in lockdown. Conservation researchers found significant changes in the behavior of wild animals. Most evident were changes from reduced traffic and driving which allowed animals to roam more widely and move into new habitats. Noise, light, air and water pollution levels were also reported to have decreased in many locations, improving wildlife habitats.

At the end of the month, President Biden, who is 79, experiences a rebound infection like so many other Americans have before him.

As the month closes, the number of daily cases in the US continues to remain stubbornly high, between 100-200K per day. Officials think the actual number may be 5-10 times that count. Deaths continue to run about 400-500 per day without much progress during the month.

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 US deaths.

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