Dernière mise à jour : 13 juil.
The latest omicron offshoot, BA.5, has quickly become dominant in the United States, and thanks to its elusiveness when encountering the human immune system, is driving a wave of cases across the country.
The size of that wave is unclear because most people are testing at home or not testing at all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past week has reported a little more than 100,000 new cases a day on average. But infectious-disease experts know that wildly underestimates the true number, which may be as many as a million, said Eric Topol, a professor at Scripps Research who closely tracks pandemic trends.
Antibodies from vaccines and previous coronavirus infections offer limited protection against BA.5, leading Topol to call it “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.”
Other experts point out that, despite being hit by multiple rounds of ever-more-contagious omicron subvariants, the country has not yet seen a dramatic spike in hospitalizations. About 38,000 people were hospitalized nationally with covid as of Friday, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. That figure has been steadily rising since early March, but remains far below the record 162,000 patients hospitalized with covid in mid-January. The average daily death toll on Friday stood at 329 and has not changed significantly over the past two months.
There is widespread agreement among infectious-disease experts that this remains a dangerous virus that causes illnesses of unpredictable severity — and they say the country is not doing enough to limit transmission.
Restrictions and mandates are long gone. Air travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. Political leaders aren’t talking about the virus — it’s virtually a nonissue on the campaign trail. Most people are done with masking, social distancing and the pandemic generally. They’re taking their chances with the virus.
“It’s the Wild West out there,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis. “There are no public health measures at all. We’re in a very peculiar spot, where the risk is vivid and it’s out there, but we’ve let our guard down and we’ve chosen, deliberately, to expose ourselves and make ourselves more vulnerable”.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan, would like to see more money for testing and vaccine development, as well as stronger messaging from the Biden administration and top health officials. She was dismayed recently on a trip to Southern California, where she saw few people wearing masks in the airport. “This is what happens when you don’t have politicians and leaders taking a strong stand on this,” she said.
The CDC said it has urged people to monitor community transmission, “stay up to date on vaccines, and take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and others.”
Nearly one-third of the U.S. population lives in counties rated as having “high” transmission levels by the CDC. Cases are rising especially in the South and West.
Many people now see the pandemic as part of the fabric of modern life rather than an urgent health emergency. Some of that is simply a widespread recalibration of risk. This is not the spring of 2020 anymore. Few people remain immunologically naive to the virus. They may still get infected, but the immune system — primed by vaccines or previous bouts with the virus — generally has deeper layers of defense that prevent severe disease.
But the death rate from covid-19 is still much higher than the mortality from influenza or other contagious diseases. Officials have warned of a possible fall or winter wave — perhaps as many as 100 million infections in the United States — that could flood hospitals with covid patients. Beyond the direct suffering of such a massive outbreak, there could be economic disruptions as tens of millions of people become too sick to work.
“It feels as though everyone has given up,” said Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Photo : The Washington Post