Cases are dropping worldwide but are still at very high levels. Active cases are high in most of South America, India and some surrounding countries, and parts of Europe. Darker blue indicates more cases below while cream colored areas are relatively safe (<1/10,000 chances of catching COVID/day with average behavior). India and Brazil have been in extreme crisis for several months now with overwhelmed hospitals, a lack of oxygen, and not enough medical supplies. NGOs, non-profits, and ad-hoc groups of healthcare workers have been working tirelessly to try and help out with medical supplies and tele-medicine. PathCheck, a non-profit MIT spinoff that I volunteer with, has created a webapp called CovRelief with resources for India such as leads to oxygen, helplines, and surveys (surveys help us get accurate data for modeling).
Variants of Concern are at least partially fueling these case spikes- B.1.617 lineages in India and P.1 in S. America. These variants have mutations that increase transmissibility and can escape immunity from previous infection (and likely from vaccination at least in part). I was alerted to a scary set of plots on twitter this week showing that while cases in the UK have dropped dramatically overall, certain regions are on the rise and the vast majority of those cases are now the B.1.617.2 variant. This variant is the one that correlated with the crisis India.
Misinformation is rampant as is vaccine hesitancy around the world. In India misinformation is being spread through WhatsApp groups, from friend to friend, family member to family member. This form of misinformation spread is particularly hard to dispel. We spoke with the WHO representation to India and they are very concerned about misinformation. We are working on collaborating with them to get more trustworthy information to the public. Here are a couple of really solid databases from groups out of Stanford for reliable COVID information generally and for India. The first database, COVIDB.org, I have been helping curate.
The cases are finally starting to drop in India and I expect that they will continue to do so in the near future. We are working on an emerging hotspot system to predict the next countries to have case spikes. I expect that many more countries will be devastated by the new COVID variants, particularly those with low vaccination rates due to lack of access or hesitancy. We are already seeing spikes in Nepal and Bangladesh. The warning system we are creating will hopefully help to get medical supplies to places most in need in a timely manner.
So far only 12% of the Global population has been vaccinated and vaccines are disproportionately and unfairly going to the wealthiest countries. The US has ~4% of the world’s population but ~16% of the total doses of vaccine. The whole world needs to be vaccinated, otherwise new variants may continue to arise and prolong the pandemic. I really hope that we start sharing more vaccine doses with the rest of the world soon.
The US has seen a drop in cases and is close to being at really safe levels. Cream colored counties are relatively safe (<1/10,000 chances of being infected by COVID/day with average behavior).
However, I am feeling pretty doubtful that the pandemic is almost fully over in the US. The variants are still on the rise in the US and are less well covered by the vaccines. The CDC came out with a study showing that 64% of breakthrough cases (cases in people that have been vaccinated) are from the variants of concern. And this didn’t even include the B.1.526 (NY origin) variants, which are still not considered “of concern” despite having every reason to be “of concern”. It might be more like 90% of breakthrough cases are from the new variants in the US if the NY variants were included in this analysis. Also the B.1.617.2 variant (Indian origin) and P.1 (Brazil origin) variants are now in the US and on the rise in several states. The lack of vigilant testing for reinfections truly has been the biggest barrier to good predictive analytics.
The new CDC guidance saying that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks is not making sense to a lot of Americans and is not going over well with many experts that I know. New information has come out showing that the vaccines do not work very well in the immunocompromised— and these people should still be taking all precautions (mask wearing etc) even after vaccination. Also our rate of vaccination has been slowing substantially and the map of most and least vaccinated states is starting to look like vaccine hesitancy along political lines. We knew this would eventually happen.
Bottom line– I am very happy cases are going down in the US but I still hope that people will remain cautious until we are fully through this. I am about 40% sure that this is the last of the pandemic for us for a number of reasons. I do think we should enjoy our new freedom– just gingerly– with extra care for the immunocompromised. We should also all be trying to help out other countries who are not as fortunate as us to have this number of vaccines.