Bearing Witness to the Pandemic August 2022

As the month begins, the US continues to be stuck in a plateau of about 400 COVID deaths each and every day. Some 12,500 died in the month of July.  Approaching 2 1/2 years into the pandemic, there have now been about 1,030,000 official deaths in the US and an estimated 6,420,000 across the globe.

More research confirms that COVID struck people of color the hardest, especially in rural America. In the early months of the pandemic, Hispanic and Black Americans died at 2-3 times the rate of White Americans. Many reasons have been cited: the lack of health care providers and hospitals in rural communities, misinformation and denialism, far lower vaccination rates, higher levels of obesity and other comorbidities, and more dangerous lower- income jobs that put them at higher risk of infection.

Employment across the US economy has finally returned to numbers before the pandemic begin. There are now over 150 million jobs with over 500 thousand added in the last month. Over 20 million jobs disappeared in the first two months of the pandemic in March and April of 2020.

The health of Americans before the pandemic was bad enough and a large factor in why the country suffered such a high fatality rate. Sadly, our health at large has gotten worse, not better. Rates of heart disease, stroke, drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, suicides, and homicides have all increased during the pandemic. Childhood vaccination rates have also gone the wrong direction, down.

Midmonth the rate of infections is going down, but daily death counts have gone up to about 500 per day, reflecting an increase in hospitalizations from recent weeks.

Researchers at Mayo report that unvaccinated people are reported to be 5 times more likely to catch COVID, 7 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 14 times more likely to die.  Those over 50 who have been vaccinated but then received only one booster shot, are dying at 4 times the rate of those who got both boosters. More than half of all American have not been boosted and three quarters of those eligible for a second booster have yet to do so.

Because recent variants elude COVID rapid antigen home tests, especially for the vaxed and boosted, the CDC has recommended that people at risk who think they have been exposed, with or without symptoms, test themselves for 2-3 consecutive days.

The CDC has relaxed its formal guidelines including a requirement to stay 6 feet apart and to quarantine after testing. Schools are no longer advised to perform daily or weekly testing. Masks are still recommended in communities of high transmission or situations at high risk. It is estimated that over 90% of all Americans now have some level of immunity from either vaccinations or previous infections. 

Reinfections are becoming ever so frequent with some people reporting even a third bout. However, a recent study found that those previous exposed to the original Omicron variant had a 70% plus effectiveness in preventing reinfection with the later Omicron BA4 and BA 5 subvariants. Another study has found while most people who are vaccinated handle reinfections well, the risk of getting really sick increases with every new round. Scientists think that the original infection may weakened some organs such that they are more vulnerable. 

The Biden Administration is making transition plans for the US government to stop paying for COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments and shift the burden to private insurers (outside of Medicare).

The new Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, announced a shake-up within the agency to avoid falling short in future health emergencies and pandemics. The CDC has been accused of acting too slowly under the Trump Administration, and then sending out confusing messages and guidelines.

Vaccine maker Pfizer formally asked the FDA to approve a modified vaccine that adds protection against Omicron variants which have evaded the original vaccine and are causing nearly all current infections.

This summer the FDA approved vaccines for children under 5 years of age, but only about 5% of those kids have been vaccinated. Parents seem to be unconvinced of the danger to their youngest members of the family. For older children 5-11, the rate of full vaccination is only 30%. The data is clear that children who are vaccinated have a lower risk of becoming sick, or if they do, a low risk of serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

A new study in Israel found that young and middle-aged adults without risk factors saw little benefit from receiving the drug Paxlovid upon becoming infected with the virus. This is unlike the elderly and high-risk seniors whose risk of hospitalization and death was decreased when the received Paxlovid.

Immunologists have found that your first and subsequent infections from coronavirus determines how well subsequent boosters and medications may work in your immune system.  Scientists believe that the combination of the variants a person is exposed to, their immune-imprinted response or memory from each exposure, and vaccine history all influences future immune system responses to new variants and perhaps even other viruses.

Life expectancy in the US during 2021 fell for a second year in a row. The declines were shocking with nearly two years knocked of the average life of a native American, one year for White Americans, and .7 years for Black Americans. While the cause was attributed mostly to COVID, the country has overall become unhealthier, less safe, more drugged, and more poorly informed orf misinformed, especially in conservative rural states.

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 Our World in Data showing the history of confirmed death rates per million.

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