Written by Steven Hansen
The U.S. new cases 7-day rolling average are 22.7 % LOWER than the 7-day rolling average one week ago. U.S. hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are now 14.4 % LOWER than the rolling average one week ago. U.S. deaths due to coronavirus are now 1.2 % LOWER than the rolling average one week ago. Today’s posts include:
- U.S. Coronavirus New Cases are 64,938 [lowest number since early October]
- U.S. Coronavirus hospitalizations are at 69,283
- U.S. Coronavirus deaths are at 1,088
- U.S. Coronavirus immunizations have been administered to 15.8 % of the population
- The 7-day rolling average rate of growth of the pandemic shows new cases improved, hospitalizations improved, and deaths worsened
- Hopefully, these current improving COVID trends will remain in play even with the new strains
- Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine sharply reduces symptomatic Covid-19 in the real world
- Virus may never go away but could change into mild annoyance
- Covid-19: The E484K mutation and the risks it poses
- Allergic Reactions Including Anaphylaxis After Receipt of the First Dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine
- How Deadly Is the U.K. Variant?
- Anatomy of a conspiracy: With COVID, China took leading role
- There’s no ‘giant national campaign’ for COVID-19 vaccine education; experts say there’s a better way
The recent worsening of the trendlines for new cases is behind us which was attributed to going back to college/university, cooler weather causing more indoor activities, mutation of the virus, fatigue from wearing masks / social distancing, holiday activities, and some loosening of regulations designed to slow the coronavirus spread.
My continuing advice is to continue to wash your hands (especially after using the toilet as COVID first sheds in your stool), putting down the toilet seat (as flushing the toilet releases a plume), wear masks, avoid crowds, and maintain social distancing. No handwashing, mask, or social distancing will guarantee you do not get infected – but it sure as hell lowers the risk in all situations – and the evidence to-date shows a lower severity of COVID-19. In addition, certain activities are believed to carry a higher risk – like being inside in air conditioning and removing your mask (such as restaurants, around your children/grandchildren, bars, and gyms). It is all about viral load – and outdoor activities are generally safe if you can maintain social distance. Finally, studies show eating right (making sure you are supporting your immune system) and adequate sleep increase your ability to fight off COVID.
Hospitalizations Are The Only Accurate Gauge As Reporting Is Not Affected By Holidays
The 4 day Thanksgiving holiday period put the first wobble in the trends. Over weekends and holidays, the number of new cases and deaths decline. Over weekends, this is not a problem for week-over-week rolling averages as weekends are compared against the previous weekend. But when a holiday falls within a working week, a non-working day is compared to a working day which causes havok in the trends.
However, hospitalizations historically appear to be little affected by weekends or holidays – the daily counts do not vary significantly from day-to-day.
The hospitalization growth rate trend is improving.
For the Thanksgiving and the end of the year holiday period – roughly, it seems each appears to have added around 5 % to the rate of growth of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Historically, hospitalization growth follows new case growth by one to two weeks.
As an analyst, I use the rate of growth to determine the trend. But, the size of the pandemic is growing in terms of real numbers – and if the rate of growth does not become negative – the pandemic will overwhelm all resources.
The graph below shows the rate of growth relative to the growth a week earlier updated through today [note that negative numbers mean the rolling averages are LOWER than the rolling averages one week ago]. As one can see, the rate of growth for new cases peaked in early December 2020 for Thanksgiving, and early January 2021 for end of year holidays – and the rate of growth is now contracting.
In the scheme of things, new cases decline first, followed by hospitalizations, and then deaths.
It is up to each of our readers to protect themselves and others by washing your hands, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and maintaining social distancing.
Will The New Variants Cause The Next Spike?
Maybe and maybe not. It all depends on vaccinations:
- the more people that are vaccinated reduces the pool of people that can be infected. Today we have removed over 15 % of the population from being infected which theoretically should reduce the infection rate by 15 % [it is unstudied whether the vaccines prevent a vaccinated person from being a carrier of the virus even though showing no signs]. If the vaccines are shown to stop transmission, then in theory it would reduce the infection rate by double the percent vaccinated [in this case you prevent your own infection and do not pass it along to another].
- it is also unknown what the effective rate of the current vaccines is against mutations that seem to appear almost daily. As an example, if the effective rate drops to 60%, it means the 15 % reduction in the infection rate discussed above is almost cut in half. The South African and Brazilian variant is somewhat immune to the current vaccines.
- The pandemic should be over immediately if everyone could be vaccinated today. The problem is that every day brings a new mutation (which would not appear if the pandemic was stopped). The longer the immunization process takes – the more ineffective the vaccine will become.
- It is not clear whether the vaccine prevents those vaccinated from spreading the virus. It seems to be well documented that it normally stops the virus from taking hold and when it does not – the infection is mild.
Coronavirus News You May Have Missed
The rumors began almost as soon as the disease itself. Claims that a foreign adversary had unleashed a bioweapon emerged at the fringes of Chinese social media the same day China first reported the outbreak of a mysterious virus.
“Watch out for Americans!” a Weibo user wrote on Dec. 31, 2019. Today, a year after the World Health Organization warned of an epidemic of COVID-19 misinformation, that conspiracy theory lives on, pushed by Chinese officials eager to cast doubt on the origins of a pandemic that has claimed more than 2 million lives globally.
From Beijing and Washington to Moscow and Tehran, political leaders and allied media effectively functioned as superspreaders, using their stature to amplify politically expedient conspiracies already in circulation. But it was China — not Russia – that took the lead in spreading foreign disinformation about COVID-19’s origins, as it came under attack for its early handling of the outbreak.
A nine-month Associated Press investigation of state-sponsored disinformation conducted in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, shows how a rumor that the U.S. created the virus that causes COVID-19 was weaponized by the Chinese government, spreading from the dark corners of the Internet to millions across the globe. The analysis was based on a review of millions of social media postings and articles on Twitter, Facebook, VK, Weibo, WeChat, YouTube, Telegram and other platforms.
Chinese officials were reacting to a powerful narrative, nursed by QAnon groups, Fox News, former President Donald Trump and leading Republicans, that the virus was instead manufactured by China.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Beijing has used its expanding megaphone on Western social media to promote friendship and serve facts, while defending itself against hostile forces that seek to politicize the pandemic.
“All parties should firmly say ‘no’ to the dissemination of disinformation,” the ministry said in a statement to AP, but added, “In the face of trumped-up charges, it is justified and proper to bust lies and clarify rumors by setting out the facts.”
[editor’s note: interesting post which makes a lot of points and deserves a full read.]
How Deadly Is the U.K. Variant? – MedPage
Evidence continues to mount that the so-called U.K. variant is “likely” deadlier and results in more hospitalizations than non-variant COVID-19 cases, according to data released on a British government website.
The report compiled research from major universities and studies and found “increased severity” of COVID-19 cases from the B.1.1.7 variant compared to “non-variants of concern,” with B.1.1.7 cases anywhere from 30% to 70% deadlier than the original wild-type strain.
These concerns were initially raised in January, when the British government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) presented initial data, suggesting cases with B.1.1.7 were likely deadlier than non-variant cases, but they noted then that “data will accrue in coming weeks, at which time the analyses will become more definitive.”
The report detailed why these updated analyses were indeed more definitive, noting earlier reports using linked community testing and mortality data were all based on the same datasets, and thus the same biases.
“More recent analyses have added a wider range of data sets and been able to control for additional confounders, increasing confidence in the association of the [variant of concern] with increased disease severity,” they wrote.
Of note, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found a relative hazard of death within 28 days was 1.58 (95% CI 184.108.40.206) for variant-infected individuals versus non-variant-infected individuals, while Imperial College London found the mean ratio of case fatality for variant cases was 1.36 with a case-control weighting method.
Public Health England performed a matched cohort analysis, and found a “death risk ratio” of 1.65 (95% CI 1.21-2.25) for variant individuals versus non-variant individuals.
Several other studies examined the effect of the variant on hospitalization, with Public Health Scotland using the S-gene target failure as a proxy to determine variant cases. They found risk of hospitalization was higher among S-gene target failure cases versus S-gene positive cases (risk ratio 1.63, 95% CI 1.48-1.80). Research from Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) and QRESEARCH also found a higher risk of ICU admission for variant versus non-variant cases (HR 1.44, 95% CI 1.25-1.67).
However, the consensus was not unanimous, and the government included data from COVID-19 Clinical Information Network (CO-CIN), which found no evidence suggesting variants are linked with higher in-hospital case fatality rates. An analysis from Office for National Statistics (ONS) noted that while the hazard ratio suggested higher risk of all-cause mortality, “the number of deaths are too low for reliable inference.”
Intermountain Healthcare doctors announced new mammogram guidelines Tuesday in response to a surprising new side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.
They say women who recently received a COVID-19 vaccine may have to postpone their yearly mammogram.
“When one receives a vaccination there is an inflammatory response in the arm,” said Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Breast Care Center.
In the past four weeks, doctors have seen swollen lymph nodes on screening mammograms of women who have recently been vaccinated.
“Whenever we see these on a normal screening mammogram we call those patients back because it can either mean metastatic breast cancer which travels to the lymph nodes or lymphoma or leukemia.”
While inflammation is the body’s normal response to a vaccine, Dr. Parkinson says it’s surprising how many swollen lymph nodes they’ve been seeing.
“With the Moderna vaccine it’s about 11% after the first dose and 16% after the second dose. We believe it’s comparable for the Pfizer vaccine as well.”
In response, Intermountain rolled out new guidelines in accordance with the Society of Breast Imaging.
Women should get their mammogram before their first dose of the vaccine, or wait four weeks after their second dose of the vaccine.
“We don’t want these patients to get a false positive to have this sort of alarm,” Parkinson said.
If you’ve been waiting for a big national campaign telling you COVID-19 vaccines are safe and everybody should get them, don’t hold your breath. Until the supply is plentiful, the federal effort is largely focused on minority communities hesitant about the immunizations.
It’s a wise approach, experts say.
The kind of one-size-fits-all public service announcements that once blanketed the country won’t work for COVID-19 vaccines, they say. Those were for universal messages – only you can prevent forest fires, keep America beautiful, friends don’t let friends drive drunk.
With COVID-19, different communities need different messages, and mass advertising doesn’t necessarily make sense, said Hal Hershfield, a professor of behavioral decision-making at the University of California-Los Angeles Anderson School of Management.
“When you really start thinking about budget and the need for specific messaging, it’s a reasonable thing not to have some giant national campaign,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped some countries, especially in Asia, from creating coronavirus mascot characters to encourage staying safe and getting vaccinated. Japan has two: Koronon, a masked cat, and Quaran, a winged yellow sphere with goggles mascot for airport quarantines. Thailand has Covid-Kun, a spiky red object that encourages handwashing. Brazil has repurposed its Ze Gotinha polio vaccine mascot, Joseph Droplet, for COVID-19.
The E484K mutation [ … ] has already been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (B.1.1.28) variants. Public Health England confirmed that they have now identified 11 cases of the UK B1.1.7 variant carrying the E484K mutation around the Bristol area and 40 cases of the original SARS-C0V-2 virus carrying the same E484K mutation in the Liverpool area. E484K is called an escape mutation because it helps the virus slip past the body’s immune defences. Ravindra Gupta at the University of Cambridge and colleagues have confirmed that the new B.1.1.7 plus E484K variant substantially increases the amount of serum antibody needed to prevent infection of cells. We already know that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible so a combination of a faster spreading virus that is also better at evading immunity is worrying-if it isn’t stopped it would outcompete the older B.1.1.7 variant.
During December 14 to 23, 2020, after administration of a reported 1â€¯893â€¯360 first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (1â€¯177â€¯527 in women, 648â€¯327 in men, and 67â€¯506 with sex of recipient not reported),3 CDC identified 21 case reports submitted to VAERS that met Brighton Collaboration case definition criteria for anaphylaxis, corresponding to an estimated rate of 11.1 cases per million doses administered. Four patients (19%) were hospitalized (including 3 in intensive care), and 17 (81%) were treated in an emergency department; 20 (95%) are known to have been discharged home or had recovered at the time of the report to VAERS. No deaths from anaphylaxis were reported. [editor’s note: these stats show the vaccine is relatively safe for those with allergies. You can also read https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2776557 which shows similar results]
Seven variants of the COVID-19 virus have been detected in the U.S., and all or some of them may contain mutations similar to the qualities exhibited by a strain of extra-contagious COVID-19 spreading in the United Kingdom, a new study found.
The study, published Sunday on MedRxiv.org, found seven previously undiscovered variants of COVID-19 in U.S. patients, all of which are thought to have originated domestically, according to reporting in The New York Times.
The viruses also had mutations at the same part of their genes which determine how the virus enters human cells, which researchers told the Times could mean that the strains are more contagious in a manner similar to the strain blamed for the latest surge in cases in the U.K., though this hypothesis is unproven.
“There’s clearly something going on with this mutation,” said Jeremy Kamil, the study’s co-author, who studies virology at Louisiana State University. “I think there’s a clear signature of an evolutionary benefit.”
The U.K. experienced a massive surge of new COVID-19 cases through December and January, causing the country to experience the highest rate of COVID-19 infections globally.
[editor’s note: also read Vaccine advisers are keeping a close watch on new variants circulating the US]
Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine appears to reduce symptomatic coronavirus infections by more than 90% in the real world, Israeli researchers said Sunday.
The findings, while preliminary, suggest that the vaccine remains remarkably effective in a mass vaccination campaign — outside the carefully controlled conditions of a clinical trial.
The Clalit Research Institute, part of a large Israeli health system, analyzed data on 1.2 million people, about half of whom had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Researchers compared patients who received the vaccine with similar individuals who hadn’t.
The rate of symptomatic Covid-19 — meaning people who were infected with the coronavirus and felt sick — decreased by 94% among people who received two doses of the vaccine, according to a press release from Clalit. The rate of serious illness decreased by 92%.
Full details of the study weren’t immediately available, and the research hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed. Still, the findings are consistent with data from Pfizer’s own vaccine trial, which found that the vaccine conferred 95% protection against symptomatic Covid-19.
In the Pfizer trial, researchers randomly assigned patients to receive either the vaccine or a placebo. Then they looked to see how many people got sick in each group, and found that the vaccine sharply reduced illness.
Pfizer’s study was a randomized controlled trial, the gold standard in clinical research. The Israeli study, on the other hand, was observational, meaning researchers didn’t randomly pick who got the vaccine and who didn’t.
Experts say it’s likely that some version of the disease will linger for years. But what it will look like in the future is less clear.
Will the coronavirus, which has already killed more than 2 million people worldwide, eventually be eliminated by a global vaccination campaign, like smallpox? Will dangerous new variants evade vaccines? Or will the virus stick around for a long time, transforming into a mild annoyance, like the common cold?
Eventually, the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 will become yet “another animal in the zoo,” joining the many other infectious diseases that humanity has learned to live with, predicted Dr. T. Jacob John, who studies viruses and was at the helm of India’s efforts to tackle polio and HIV/AIDS.
But no one knows for sure. The virus is evolving rapidly, and new variants are popping up in different countries. The risk of these new variants was underscored when Novavax Inc. found that the company’s vaccine did not work as well against mutated versions circulating in Britain and South Africa. The more the virus spreads, experts say, the more likely it is that a new variant will become capable of eluding current tests, treatments and vaccines.
For now, scientists agree on the immediate priority: Vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. The next step is less certain and depends largely on the strength of the immunity offered by vaccines and natural infections and how long it lasts.
“Are people going to be frequently subject to repeat infections? We don’t have enough data yet to know,” said Jeffrey Shaman, who studies viruses at Columbia University. Like many researchers, he believes chances are slim that vaccines will confer lifelong immunity.
If humans must learn to live with COVID-19, the nature of that coexistence depends not just on how long immunity lasts, but also how the virus evolves. Will it mutate significantly each year, requiring annual shots, like the flu? Or will it pop up every few years?
The following are foreign headlines with hyperlinks to the posts
Vaccine Tussle: Many Europeans are desperate for a coronavirus vaccine. But not just any vaccine. As AstraZeneca vaccines are rolling out to European Union nations this month, joining the Pfizer and Moderna shots already available, some people are balking at being offered a vaccine that they perceive as second-best.
Israel Fake News: The government is blaming online misinformation for a sudden slowdown in the vaccination campaign, after the country surged ahead in the race to inoculate its population.
The following additional national and state headlines with hyperlinks to the posts
Emergency room visits were down overall last year, but drug overdose trips to the ER saw an increase from 2019 to 2020.
It’s not vaccinations that have been driving down Covid-19 cases in the US, one expert says [editor’s note: hospitalization rate of growth turned on 10 January]
Today’s Posts On Econintersect Showing Impact Of The Pandemic With Hyperlinks