As Covid-19 numbers gradually improve, health experts have an urgent message: Don’t get cocky and let your guard down.
“We can’t get overconfident. Every time we do and we put our guard down … we get another surge with another variant,” said Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, a viral researcher and internal medicine physician.
“So yes, things are better. But they’re far from over.”
An average of 107,312 new cases were reported each day over the past week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, the lowest such number since August 5.
Hospitalizations have dropped, too. About 71,325 patients are now hospitalized with Covid-19, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a 12.7% decrease compared to last week.
While such declines are welcome, “It does not signal the beginning of the end of this pandemic,” Rodriguez said Monday.
“What it signals is that we are now on the downswing here of this latest surge, this Delta surge. But we’re still getting over 100,000 infections a day. And right now, the tide is higher than it was a year ago.”
The daily Covid-19 death toll is a sobering reality check.
Over the past week, an average of more than 1,800 Americans died from Covid-19 every day, according to Johns Hopkins. Health experts say the vast majority of those deaths were preventable with vaccination.
‘Let’s focus like a laser’
Whether Americans can gather more safely this holiday season largely depends upon actions taken now, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.
“The way to keep (numbers) down, to make that turnaround continue to go down, is to … get people vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC on Sunday.
“When you have 70 million people in the country who are eligible to be vaccinated who are not yet vaccinated, that’s the danger zone right there.”
Multiple times throughout the pandemic, Covid-19 numbers have dropped, only to surge again, sometimes with a new variant.
“We’ve just got to concentrate on continuing to get those numbers down, and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we’re going to do at a particular time,” Fauci told CBS Sunday.
“Let’s focus like a laser on continuing to get those cases down, and we can do it by people getting vaccinated.”
Celebrating the holidays safely
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance on holiday celebrations, urging people to get fully vaccinated before the holidays and wear a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial transmission.
“Attending gatherings to celebrate events and holidays increases your risk of getting and spreading Covid-19. The safest way to celebrate is virtually, with people who live with you, or outside and at least 6 feet apart from others,” the CDC said.
The guidance also recommends people delay travel until they are fully vaccinated.
To be clear: Fully vaccinated means at least two weeks have passed since your final dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
As of Sunday, only 55.9% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
Vaccines for younger kids might be within weeks
The US Food and Drug Administration said Friday its vaccine advisers will meet October 26 to discuss data from Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine trial among children ages 5 to 11.
That does not necessarily mean children in that age group can start getting shots right afterward. The FDA vaccine advisers would have to first make a recommendation, and then the FDA would vote on the recommendation.
Then, the CDC would have to sign off before children ages 5 to 11 could start getting vaccinated.
Some health experts say kids in that age group might be able to get their first shots by the end of October or November. But just like with adults, those children would need two doses.
While children who get Covid-19 often have less severe cases than adults, kids can still be vulnerable to serious illness and long-term effects, Fauci told CNN.
He said those are important reasons to vaccinate children.
“We are seeing now, very clearly, if you go to pediatric hospitals … there are children in hospital who are getting seriously ill,” Fauci told CNN on Sunday.
“You want to protect your child, but you also want to make the child a part of the solution, mainly so that there’s not spread of infection, either within your household or to other vulnerable people.”
Don’t rely on a past infection or an unauthorized pill
Hopeful news emerged Friday when the pharmaceutical company Merck said molnupiravir, an investigational antiviral drug made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 by half.
But full data from the molnupiravir trial had not yet been released nor peer-reviewed. And it’s not clear if or when the pill might be authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration as a tool to fight Covid-19.
“It’s not an alternative to vaccination,” former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said. “We still have to try to get more people vaccinated.”
Vaccination is still the best way to reduce the risk of infection, hospitalization and death from Covid-19, Fauci said.
“The news of the efficacy of this particular antiviral (molnupiravir) is obviously very good news,” he said.
“It decreased the risk — this pill did — of hospitalizations and deaths by 50%. You know the way to decrease the risk by 100%? Don’t get infected in the first place.”
As for those assuming previous infection will keep them immune from Covid-19, a new study published Friday in the journal The Lancet Microbe suggests protection may be short-lived.
“Reinfection can reasonably happen in three months or less,” lead author Jeffrey Townsend, a professor of biostatistics at the Yale School of Public Health, said in a news release.
“Therefore, those who have been naturally infected should get vaccinated. Previous infection alone can offer very little long-term protection against subsequent infections.”
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