Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Isn’t Over

Good Morning!!

Art in Digital Form by Jessica Johnson

Art in Digital Form by Jessica Johnson

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, many Americans celebrated as if the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately that’s not the case. The Delta variant of Covid-19 is establishing itself around the country, especially in the places where people have resisted getting vaccinated.  And now there’s a new strain of the virus, the Lambda variant, which originated in Peru and is now appearing in Europe.

Cases are rising in the U.S. now, even in states like Massachusetts where 70 percent of the population is vaccinated. Boston 25 News: Delta variant beginning to push MA COVID numbers up.

Actually, though things are pretty good, they are far from back to normal. In fact, COVID is once again going in the wrong direction in Massachusetts, according to the state’s numbers. While infections remain extremely low, they are suddenly on the upswing – very slightly.

From June 23 to June 27, the state confirmed 291 COVID cases. In the following five days, tests confirmed 376 cases. That was an increase of about 29%. And there’s something troubling behind the numbers.

Dr. Richard Ellison, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester said, across New England, about a quarter of the new cases have been traced to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

“So, Delta is here and there is an opportunity for it to increase,” Dr. Ellison said. “So New England’s the safest part of the country, but we’re going to have to watch it.”

And that’s in a place where most people aren’t denying the existence of Covid-19. Missouri is one of those places. ABC News: Missouri sees rise in severe COVID-19 cases among the young, unvaccinated as delta variant spreads.

Health care workers in southwest Missouri are sounding the alarm over a wave of young, unvaccinated COVID-19 patients who are now filling hospital beds.

Leanne Handle, an assistant nurse manager of a medical surgical COVID-19 unit at CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, said she and her staff have seen the patient population over the past year go from elderly people who are immunocompromised or have multiple other conditions to, more recently, younger individuals who “don’t think COVID is real” and haven’t been vaccinated against the disease….

Outsized, Overwhelming Impact of COVID-19

Outsized, Overwhelming Impact of COVID-19

“So, what we’re seeing now are the patients who are coming in who don’t think that they’re going to get sick from it, who aren’t mentally prepared to make life and death decisions of do they want to be intubated, do you want CPR if your heart should stop,” she added. “We have very few patients who have been admitted that have been vaccinated. So it has been proven to keep you at least out of the hospital, and from severe disease.”

Handle also noted a “scary trend” among younger patients with the spread of the so-called delta variant, a highly contagious strain of the virus that was first identified in India and has since been detected in more than 80 countries around the world as well as dozens of U.S. states, including Missouri.

“With the new variant in our area, these patients are getting sicker quicker,” she said. “They are progressing through this spectrum very, very quickly.”

From Today’s Washington Post: Their neighbors called covid-19 a hoax. Can these ICU nurses forgive them?

The hospital executives at the lectern called her a hero, and the struggle that had earned Emily Boucher that distinction showed on her face: in the pallor acquired over 12-hour shifts in the intensive care unit, the rings beneath eyes that watched almost every day as covid-19 patients gasped for their final breaths.

The pandemic had hit late but hard in the Appalachian highlands — the mountainous region that includes Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee — and over the winter many of its victims had ended up on ventilators tended by Boucher and her fellow nurses at Johnston Memorial Hospital.\They were enduring the traumas known to ICU workers across the world: days filled with death, nights ruined by dreams in which they found themselves at infected patients’ bedsides without masks. But they were also enduring a trauma that many doctors and nurses elsewhere were not: the suspicion and derision of those they risked their lives to protect.

Conspiracy theories about the pandemic and lies recited on social media — or at White House news conferences — had penetrated deep into their community. When refrigerated trailers were brought in to relieve local hospitals’ overflowing morgues, people said they were stage props. Agitated and unmasked relatives stood outside the ICU insisting that their intubated relatives only had the flu. Many believed the doctors and nurses hailed elsewhere for their sacrifices were conspiring to make money by falsifying covid-19 diagnoses.

Boucher and her colleagues were pained by those attacks — and infuriated by them.Unlike their exhaustion, that anger rarely showed on their faces, but it was often there: as they scrolled Facebook to see local ministers saying God was greater than any virus, or stood in line with unmasked grocery shoppers who joked loudly about the covid hoax.

Hope, by Alexander Allen. Man on beach with U.S. Naval Ship Comfort in the distance

Hope, by Alexander Allen. Man on beach with U.S. Naval Ship Comfort in the distance

All of us are endangered by these delusional people. CNN: These parts of the US could become ‘breeding grounds’ for potentially more Covid-19 variants, expert says.

Out of the Covid-19 pandemic, two Americas are emerging: One protected by vaccines and the other still vulnerable to infection — and experts say progress made across the entire US is being threatened by low-vaccinated regions.

“We’re already starting to see places with low vaccination rates starting to have relatively big spikes from the Delta variant. We’ve seen this in Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming … those are the places where we’re going to see more hospitalizations and deaths as well, unfortunately,” Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha, told CNN.

“And any time you have large outbreaks, it does become a breeding ground for potentially more variants.”

Parts of the South, Southwest and Midwest are starting to see spikes in cases, and many of those states — like Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi — are among those with the lowest rates of vaccination, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent Covid-19 case rates are an average of three times higher in states that have vaccinated a smaller share of their residents than the United States overall, CDC data shows.

If there is another surge, Dr. Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, said young unvaccinated adults could be a big part of the problem.

“We’ve already seen that the highest number of infections over the past few months have been in those younger adults,” Ranney said. “These are the people that thought they were invincible.”

David Axe at The Daily Beast: This Is What America’s Next Big COVID Wave Will Look Like.

“The Delta variant will likely become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of the summer,” Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University global health expert, told The Daily Beast. “It is entirely foreseeable that the U.S. will experience surges, particularly in states with relatively low vaccination coverage.”

Thanks to its sprawling pharmaceutical industry and carefully worded contracts between the vaccine-makers and the federal government, the United States is one of the few countries where supply of vaccine far exceeds willing recipients.

Virtually anyone in the U.S. can get vaccinated, for free, at any time. So far, 54 percent of all Americans have taken advantage of that rare privilege and have gotten at least one dose. But vaccination rates are uneven across U.S. states and, unsurprisingly in this polarized era, map fairly neatly on political alignment.

Colour Blind, by Sarah Racaniere, a poem by Duke Al Durham

Colour Blind, by Sarah Racaniere, a poem by Duke Al Durham

Vaccine uptake is high in states governed by Democrats. Consider California, where 61 percent of the population is at least partially vaccinated. In Republican states, uptake is generally low. Just 36 percent of Mississippi residents have gotten their first shot.

There’s a politically charged vaccination disparity in the United States, and the Delta lineage is taking advantage of it.

The new variant now accounts for around a quarter of all new infections in the U.S.. But it’s not evenly distributed. Five states where Delta is prevalent—Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming—are all seeing significant increases in new COVID cases, even though case rates are probably still flat on the national level.

Not surprisingly, those are the states where vaccination rates are lowest.

“When you have such a low level of vaccination superimposed upon a variant that has a high degree of efficiency of spread, what you are going to see among undervaccinated regions, be that states, cities or counties, you’re going to see these individual types of blips,” Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.

“It’s almost like it’s going to be two Americas,” Fauci added.

Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he’s especially worried about Southern states. “The Deep South is a real concern, where political leadership was much too slow to endorse the science, and scientific literacy is lower than in many parts of the country,” Beyrer told The Daily Beast. “The more infectious variants, like Delta, will exploit these vulnerabilities. That’s what viruses do.”

There’s more at the link. But, as I wrote above, cases are rising even in states with high vaccination rates, and there’s a report from Israel on reduced effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta variant. What will happen as new variants continue to develop? What about the Lambda variant?

EuroNews: Lambda: What do we know about the latest COVID variant flagged by the WHO?

The latest variant to be highlighted by the World Health Organization, named Lambda, has now been found in at least 27 different countries.

It is especially widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and is accounting for more and more cases in these countries.

Pipetting The Sample by Ali Al-Nasser

Pipetting The Sample by Ali Al-Nasser

Having found its way to Europe, where there is already an ongoing battle against the Delta variant, due to lack of study it is still unclear how major a cause of concern it might be.

The latest variant to be highlighted by the World Health Organization, named Lambda, has now been found in at least 27 different countries.

It is especially widespread across South America, having first appeared in Peru in August last year, and is accounting for more and more cases in these countries.

Having found its way to Europe, where there is already an ongoing battle against the Delta variant, due to lack of study it is still unclear how major a cause of concern it might be.

It is not yet listed as a ‘variant of concern’, rather a ‘variant of interest’ by the WHO, meaning it has been identified as causing transmission or detected in multiple countries.

Read more at the link.

We’ve learned that we will be affected by what is happening with the virus in other countries. Therefore, I want to call your attention to two longer articles–one about Russia and one about India.

Alexey Kovalev at Foreign Policy: The Shocking Enormity of Russia’s Botched Pandemic Response.

MOSCOW—As I write this, Russia is firmly in the grip of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, there are about 22,000 reported new infections—twice as many as during the peak of the first wave in May 2020—and more than 600 deaths. The new Delta variant of the virus, which Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says is responsible for 90 per cent of new infections in the Russian capital, has caught Russia almost completely unawares. Despite having access to the brain power and resources of one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world, Russian authorities have repeatedly squandered almost every chance to beat the pandemic. Their massive, bloated propaganda apparatus failed to do the one job it was designed for: Get the message out. Instead, the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of trust between the Russian government and citizens. Now, the campaign for parliamentary elections in September could make fighting the pandemic even harder, since the ruling United Russia party may be even more reluctant to impose unpopular measures such as lockdowns.

Russian independent observers and journalists—including me and my colleagues at Meduza—already knew something was terribly off with Russia’s handling of the pandemic in late spring of 2020. We had looked at the numbers and recognized that COVID-19 deaths were being underreported in many regions of Russia. According to the official statistics at the time, tens of thousands of Russians were dying in 2020 of a mysterious pneumonia epidemic unrelated to COVID-19. This was hardly plausible. The more likely explanation: Russian regional authorities were writing off the majority of COVID-19 cases as “community-acquired pneumonia.”

There is no evidence of a cover-up ordered from the top. More likely, regional governorates were simply being discreet to avoid being the bearer of bad news to the Kremlin. Underreporting COVID-19 cases in the early stages of the pandemic plausibly made many Russians question the existence of the virus or lulled them into a false sense of security, although there is no poll data to back this up. What’s certain is that by November 2020, according to independent polling institute Levada, the majority of Russians did not trust their government’s COVID-19 figures: 33 percent thought them too low, while 28 percent believed they were exaggerated.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Read the rest at Foreign Policy.

Naturarte by Angela Araujo, Sunsuet collage made from cuts from Nature covers

Naturarte by Angela Araujo, Sunsuet collage made from cuts from Nature covers

MIT Technology Review: What went so wrong with covid in India? Everything.

America may seem to be approaching the end of the pandemic, but covid-19 remains a surging catastrophe in India, with more than 30 million people infected and more than 400,000 deaths—official figures that many believe are far below the real numbers. A more likely scenario, the New York Times reported on May 25, is that 539 million people have been infected and more than 1.6 million are dead. On June 27, the Wall Street Journal published figures from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose modeling also suggests that India is undercounting. The institute estimates the death toll at over 1.1 million, or three times the official figure. 

But the crisis was not an unavoidable tragedy. Even the new delta variant discovered to be sweeping through the country was not some terrible random error. Instead, the catastrophe that has struck millions of Indians is the direct outcome of the government’s failures: its failure to plan ahead by increasing hospital capacity and acquiring medicines; its failure to figure out contact tracing, collect adequate data, and purchase vaccines. Even after it became clear that a second wave was inevitable, the government went ahead with superspreader events that served its own political purposes—and gave the virus a new opportunity. And at the center of the crisis—paying little attention to science, seemingly refusing to heed good advice, and appearing concerned primarily with holding on to power at any cost—stands India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose arrogance and underpreparedness have cost the country an incalculable amount. 

Read the rest at the Technology Review link.

NOTE: Read about the pandemic art works in this post in this Nature Medicine article: Art in a Pandemic: A Digital Gallery.

What else is happening? What stories have captured your interest today?


20 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Isn’t Over”

  1. dakinikat says:

    I live in a city surrounded by plague rats in the rural areas and plague rats in the surrounding states who come here to get drunk and ignore laws. I’m not going anywhere without a mask and I’m keeping away from anyone that has accents from Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, and that mishmash of an accent from north of here. Thanks for keeping me up on this. Your posts are invaluable! Now to work safely from my bedroom like the privileged person I am!

  2. Beata says:

    I think it is important to remember that the least vaccinated states are also the poorest states in the country. The focus is often on the political views of the unvaccinated but perhaps their economic situation should be given equal consideration. What is being done to remove economic barriers to vaccination in these states? Education about vaccines from trusted sources, childcare, transportation, paid time off from work (a day or more if they experience any side effects), etc. Are these being offered to poor people?

    • dakinikat says:

      We’re doing everything here to get folks vaccinated from lotteries to going to their neighborhood businesses and giving away free things. Rides are free. Vaccines are free.

      The hesitant here are people that don’t trust the government and think god will save them. There are preachers telling them not to do it. They also think wearing masks are unnecessary and that it’s likely fake. Seriously, we have really poor people here in New Orleans and they’ve got the vaccine. It’s available 24-7 at your local Walmart or Walgreen’s pharmacy or Winn Dixie pharmacy. It’s really a cultural thing stoked up by Trump and his ugly minions.

      The black communities all over the state are down with getting vaccines after initial hesitancy from things like the Tuskegee experiment. The preachers and the community leaders have been wonderful seeing poor black folks get their vaccine. Same with the Asian Communities and the Hispanic communities. It’s the wipipo. The Catholic Social Services and churches have done pushes too. You can get everything here from little Sisters of Charity. It’s mostly evangelical white Christians and trumperz and that’s Lousiana.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Hi Beata,

      How are you doing?

      Do you think there are economic barriers in Indiana? The vaccination rate is 45 percent. I thought the assisted living place my Mom was in did a very good job. She is in Illinois now.

      • Beata says:

        BB, I hope your mother is doing well. Illinois probably has better health care in general than Indiana.

  3. MsMass says:

    What did the W Virginia governor say- for the unvaccinated it’s a death lottery? And Fauci said the unvaccinated were 99.5 % of the recent deaths due to Covid. Many of them are Republicans so they have drank the koolaid and will pay with their lives. What a bunch of fools.

    • quixote says:

      If it only affected them, I’d have a hard time caring at this point. But there’s also kids, with no choice, immunosuppressed people, and, the big one, incubating nasty variants that’ll get the rest of us.

      That’s the problem with evolutionary selection against stupidity. It’s a blunt instrument.

    • jslat says:

      Beata. You have shared some of your journey with all of us for the past few years. I admire your strength and grace my skydancer friend. Let beauty and love walk beside you and hold you in their arms.

  4. dakinikat says:

  5. NW Luna says:

    “…the crisis was not an unavoidable tragedy.”

    All too true.. Basic public health precautions and planning could have minimized the death and morbidity.

  6. NW Luna says: