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Thursday, January 20, 2022

On the first anniversary of ‘Bleach Day,’ the global pandemic is at its worst level ever

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Here’s something else that may seem hard to swallow: A year later, the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. each day is actually twice what it was on the day Donald Trump speculated over internal fumigation. Worldwide, new cases are almost exactly ten times higher than they were on that date. The pandemic is still definitely a pandemic.

At this point, the United States still holds the world record for the total number of cases, and for the highest number of deaths. Trump’s legacy of malignant mismanagement centered on a deliberate attempt to kill parts of the populace remains unmatched. 

But that doesn’t mean that some people aren’t giving it a real try. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, always up for an opportunity to demonstrate the maximum level of bull-headed ignorance, managed to bring that nation’s rate of daily deaths up to the U.S. peak at the beginning of this month, as the incredible tragedy of Manaus spread to other areas.

As Scientific American put it, “The city and Brazil as a whole have become an exemplar of what happens when a country pursues a strategy of denying the pandemic and embracing herd immunity by letting the virus spread unchecked.” Bolsonaro responded by saying that “death is inevitable.” Case counts are down in Brazil over the last two weeks as the fire in Manaus has dimmed, but the there are other cities where case counts are heading up. With less than 7% of the population having tested positive, and just over 8% of the population having been vaccinated, there are still many millions of people subject to Bolsonaro’s ongoing folly.

Meanwhile, India is providing a different sort of lesson. Early in the pandemic, the nation of almost 1.4 billion people maintained a low level of COVID-19 cases through strict social distancing rules, rolling lockdowns, and beating people for not wearing masks. But that didn’t mean that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t devote himself to downplaying the virus and making fun of those who issued dire warnings. Over time, mask mandates stopped being enforced, social distancing regulations were dropped, and Modi became increasingly dismissive of the whole idea that COVID-19 represented a threat to India.

As Bloomberg reported, Modi showed up at a cricket stadium last month, along with tens of thousands of largely unmasked people, to watch matches between India and England. Like Trump, Modi also held a set of election rallies, in which a total of over three million crowded together. Surprisingly, police did not show up to beat Modi or his followers. Modi and other officials didn’t just permit, but encouraged, a massive religious gathering over the last month in which millions of Hindus took part in a pilgrimage to the Ganges. Through all this, India’s health minister announced that the nation was in the “end game” of the pandemic.

But even as Modi was laughing off the pandemic and his officials were talking like the whole thing was over, cases were already on the rise. Over the last month, they’ve jetted upward in India, and for the last two days India has reported more new cases of COVID-19 than the United States did at its worst. That includes 332,000 cases on Thursday alone. That means that India is currently accounting for more than one-third of all new COVID-19 cases reported anywhere on Earth. And with just 1% of the population having tested positive, and less than 5% of the population vaccinated, India holds a tremendous pool of potential victims to Modi’s downplaying of the virus.

Looking around the world, North America currently accounts for 10% of all cases, with most of those coming from the United States. South America accounts for about 14% of cases, with Brazil topping that chart. About 20% of current cases are located in Europe, distributed across a number of countries. Just 1% of cases come from Africa, where the pandemic has been mainly restricted to South Africa and nations along the Mediterranean coast (though recent increases in a number of nations, including Tunisia and Ethiopia, are concerning). 

But right now, 54% of all new COVID-19 cases are located in Asia; a number that hasn’t been seen since shortly after the virus moved beyond China. While a large percentage of those cases come from the massive surge in India, waves of cases are also hitting Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere. Even nations like Japan, which had been so successful in keeping case counts low to this point, are experiencing a “fourth wave.” More frightening, many of these nations show no signs of slowing the rate of growth.

New cases of COVID-19 in India continue to rise sharply.

All of this is an indicator that, despite ongoing efforts at vaccination, it’s critical that social distancing regulations and mask mandates remain in place. No matter how ready people may be to declare the pandemic over, it’s not over. And relaxing the rules anywhere is inviting a new wave of cases and deaths. That applies to the United States as much as it does to anywhere else.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

A panel of outside advisers which provides recommendations concerning COVID-19 vaccines for the CDC is expected to meet on Friday to discuss next actions involving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The FDA recommended a “pause” in the use of the vaccine following six cases of a rare type of blood clot out of 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine administered in the United States. Other nations have already resumed use of the vaccine after adding a warning label, but the United States continues to delay. Experts have been trying to determine if there is any direct tie between the vaccine and the blood clots, and determine whether there might be more such cases overlooked in the first report. Any new information should be made public today. Both the CDC and FDA state that they are working through information as quickly as possible, but it’s unclear when new inoculations using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might begin.

Within the United States, many areas are actually seeing a vaccine surplus, as the availability of vaccine increases and vaccine hesitancy remains. However, there are other areas—particularly communities of color—where vaccine demand remains high. The single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides a measure of convenience that makes it the preferred treatment for some people, especially those who had difficulty scheduling and attending two vaccination appointments weeks apart.

As of Thursday, 52% of the adult population in the United States, and 41% of the total population, have received at least one dose of vaccine, but the rate of new vaccinations continues to decline. The 7-day moving average rate of vaccination now stands at 2.7 million jabs a day, down from 3.2 million ten days ago.

And one more reminder


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