Latest Coronavirus News
Public health authorities recently delivered some good news in the ongoing fight against coronavirus disease: The number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations dropped 53 percent, from January 15 to February 2.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reported COVID deaths are on the rise, averaging 2,404 a day, a 1.6 percent increase compared with the previous 7-day moving average of 2,366. More than 899,000 total COVID deaths were reported over the last 30 days, and that number is expected to go over 900,000 when the CDC releases its next report.
The higher death rate is most likely due to the lack of progress in getting adults vaccinated, according to Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Nuzzo also said that people who are most likely to die from the coronavirus disease are the ones not protected from severe illness by vaccines.
A total of 212 million people, or 64 percent of the country’s population, have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC’s data. In addition, 42 percent of the fully vaccinated have received a booster shot.
The New York Times calculated that the number of Americans who died due to the coronavirus disease is at least 63 percent higher than in other large, wealthy countries.
Health authorities in Europe say Omicron is spreading less rapidly and coronavirus deaths are starting to plateau. Dr. Hans Kluge, Director of the World Health Organization (WHO), believes Europe is entering a “plausible endgame” to the COVID pandemic.
Omicron Variant Likely Culprit For Latest COVID Complications
Health experts believe the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is fueling the mounting death toll and new COVID cases. Omicron, first detected in late November, has replaced Delta as the dominant variant in the United States because it appears to be more contagious than Delta. The Delta variant, however, is still around and the CDC lists Delta as a variant of concern in the United States.
Health experts noted that Omicron causes people who have been fully vaccinated and those who have received a booster shot to have milder symptoms, such as a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat. Omicron symptoms may be more severe in unvaccinated people and can lead to hospitalization or even death.
Because Omicron was only identified nearly three months ago, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said it’s too soon to assume that Omicron will cause milder disease.
“We still don’t really know—and there’s some controversy about this—whether Omicron causes the same kind of severity of disease or whether it’s a somewhat milder form of the illness,” Collins said in an interview with CNN.
As if that’s not enough, scientists and health experts around the world are watching a subvariant of Omicron, called BA.2, which has been detected in at least 40 countries, including the United States and Canada.
The Omicron subvariant is considered stealthier than the original Omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect. Some scientists are concerned that it could be more contagious, but they have yet to determine whether it evades vaccines better or causes more severe disease.
Omicron Prompting More Research
Due to its rapid sweep across the globe, scientists worldwide are still gathering data about the Omicron variant. For instance, it is not clear whether Omicron will prompt a new wave of post-COVID conditions, which have been dubbed “long COVID.”
The WHO defines long COIVD as a condition that occurs three months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
Post-COVID symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog,” as well as a wide range of other problems affecting the heart, brain, lungs, gut, and other organs.
These debilitating conditions suffered by the “long-haulers,” as people who develop these conditions are sometimes called, interfere with daily living activities, whether it’s going to work every day or caring for children. Researchers estimate that 14 to 30 percent of people infected with the coronavirus have long COVID.
“If you say Omicron’s mild, it doesn’t say anything about long Covid,” Amy Proal, a microbiologist at the PolyBio Research Foundation said in an interview with Vox. “We don’t even know how mild Omicron is.”
Free COVID-19 Tests Available
Americans are able to order free at-home COVID-19 test kits from the U.S. government. In January, the Biden Administration announced that it was buying 1 billion at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests that will be mailed directly to the American households that order them. Every home in the United States is eligible to order four free at-home tests.
Health experts say rapid COVID-19 tests are good to have to determine whether a person has been infected with the coronavirus after experiencing COVID symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, fever, cough, congestion, vomiting, and diarrhea.
“Ultimately, if you’re noticing something has changed and are experiencing unusual symptoms, that’s a good reason to test yourself,”Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health in Weymouth, Massachusetts, told ABC News.
Private health insurers have been mandated to cover the cost of additional at-home rapid COVID-19 tests. The administration also announced that starting in early Spring, Medicare beneficiaries can get up to eight free COVID home tests each month from pharmacies and other vendors.
In the meantime, everyone who wants to order free at-home test kits can visit https://www.covidtests.gov/ or place their order with the U.S. Postal Service at https://special.usps.com/testkits.