Federal officials warned this week that the United States may be on track for another spike in Covid-19 cases, trailing Europe for a few weeks in a pattern seen throughout the pandemic.
European countries now implementing new lockdowns amid a resurgence of infections each took an upward trend after ignoring known mitigation strategies, said the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle. Walensky, noting that it was a warning sign for the US.
France on Friday imposed a month-long blockade on Paris and other parts of the country. Italy earlier this week implemented new restrictions.
The United States in general has followed the European Union for a few weeks in the dynamics of the outbreak, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week. In Europe, cases fell, stagnated, and then countries fell back on mitigation methods and had a spike in cases, he said in a conversation with The Wall Street Journal.
“They are in the process of a rebound now, which is something we really want to avoid,” said Dr. Fauci. He added that given the current level of community infection in the US, it is risky to withdraw all preventive modalities.
A Wall Street Journal analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows that in 25 states, the average number of new cases in the past seven days is greater than the average number of cases in the past 14 days, indicating that cases are increasing. Those states include Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. The number of states trending in this direction has oscillated in recent weeks, compared to just five states a month ago.
The United States comprises many local epidemics, with different patterns in states governed by community decisions about interventions and vaccines, said Yonatan Grad, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“I don’t know if it makes sense to compare the entire United States with what is happening elsewhere,” said Dr. Grad.
If the number of cases and hospitalizations are increasing in places where restrictions have been lifted and bars, restaurants and more activities have reopened, that raises concerns about an increase in transmission, said Dr. Grad. In those places, he added , the expectation is that the numbers continue to rise.
In Michigan, case positivity has risen for more than three weeks, with all regions stagnating or increasing positivity, according to data tracked by the University of Michigan. According to the CDC, the highly communicable variant of coronavirus first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7, is prevalent in the state, with 616 cases.
At first, the post-holiday decline in new Covid-19 cases was steady in Michigan, and then it started to stop and rise, said Emily Toth Martin, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. .
The number of cases in younger age groups, under 50, is increasing, Dr. Martin said, and there are reports of clusters of cases occurring around school-related activities outside of the classroom.
Dr. Martin said she has been working with a team that performs genomic sequencing of Covid-19 cases. In Michigan, he said, they are testing variants within known groups, rather than random sampling in the community.
“If you compare us to a state that is randomly sampling throughout the community, it seems like we have a variant problem,” Dr. Martin said, “when really, we’re just looking for it in a more targeted way.”
The UK variant is not the predominant strain moving around the community, Dr Martin said. Instead, the increase in the case count is due to changes in behavior, more mobility, and more openness.
That will lead to fluctuations in the case count, especially since the number of people vaccinated within the community is not that high, he said. About 22% of residents have received at least one injection, according to a Journal analysis of the CDC data.
“We’re getting a little bit on the skis, in terms of being very enthusiastic about getting involved again and starting to open things up and start having meetings again, when in reality none of the people involved in those activities are really protected or immune.” said Dr. Martin.
Overall, the Covid-19 positivity rate continues to decline in the US, with a seven-day average of 4.1%. According to CDC data, Covid-19 cases per capita are highest in the 18-24 age group, followed by 25-34.
The possible plateau comes as the vaccination campaign in the US, seen as key to ending the pandemic, accelerates. Last week, the country passed the milestone of administering 100 million doses of vaccines. And on Friday, the United States reached President Biden’s goal of providing 100 million doses of vaccine during his first 100 days in office, weeks ahead of schedule. The vaccination rate is now 2.5 million doses a day on average; nearly 12% of the US population is vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
By comparison, 3.68% of Italians, 3.64% of Germans, 3.37% of French and 2.65% of UK residents are vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins. The EU vaccination effort has been hampered by dose shortages, so only a small portion of the general public is likely to receive the vaccine in late summer, while the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants is accelerates throughout the region.
Most Americans who have been fully vaccinated are 50 years or older, according to CDC data.
But with the U.S. choosing to prioritize a limited number of vaccines for older or vulnerable adults, who have a higher risk of serious complications and death from Covid-19, it means that those who are perhaps more likely to get around the community will be vaccinated later, according to Dr. Martin and Dr. Grad.
“It makes sense, if your goal is to reduce deaths, to focus on vaccinating those who are most at risk of dying if they become infected,” said Dr. Grad, adding that “there are some contexts where you would like to vaccinate those who are in increased risk of transmission to reduce cases, in order to reduce deaths. “
Write to Melanie Grayce West at [email protected]
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