Twenty months into a pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 770,000 Americans and nearly a year after Covid-19 vaccinations were made available, US health experts warn a fifth wave of infections threatens to overwhelm. health systems in the worst-affected states.
Fear of others surge the infection comes at the height of the Thanksgiving holiday, when tens of millions of Americans will travel to reconnect with their families, some of them for the first time since the start. epidemic.
But what is expected is a celebration that has turned fraught with peril in several Midwestern states, where vaccination rates are low and cases of Covid-19 are rising rapidly after a summer lull.
Even some northeastern states where vaccination rates are above 70%, such as Maine and Vermont, are seeing an increase in the number of cases, according to epidemiologists, according to epidemiologists. The trend may reflect breakthrough infections caused by reduced immunity to Covid jabs.
For now, at least, hospitalization rates in these states are not growing as rapidly as in the Midwest, suggesting Vaccine remains an important tool for preventing serious illness.
“We are bracing for the absolute worst, a state where the daily number of Covid-19 cases has increased,” said Andrew Jameson, an infectious disease physician at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital in Michigan. almost doubled since the beginning of November.
Jameson added: “We were exhausted. It’s hard. Honestly, the biggest burden is on the nurses. We have lost a lot of critical care nurses who have completely left the hospital bed.”
In Minnesota, the state government this week summoned 400 members of the National Guard to assist nurses in long-term care facilities experiencing chronic staff shortages.
Nationwide, the number of cases has increased by nearly 30% since the beginning of the month to a high of 28 cases per 100,000 population, well below the January 2021 peak of about 75 cases per 100,000 population.
However, the rise in infections is prompting health experts to warn that a country with more access to injectable drugs will be exposed to dangerously low rates of vaccination. low, the politicization of mask wearing and social distancing, and growing public complacency.
“We are in the early stages of a significant fifth wave,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. He added that the US is in a “worse position than all the countries in Western Europe”, some of which are already battling a third wave.
Just under 60% of Americans are fully immunized, compared with 69% in the UK, 79% in Spain and 86% in Portugal. The United States is in a similar position to many Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Poland, where high rates of Covid vaccination reluctance and a deadly wave of the virus threaten to cause chaos in hospitals, according to Topol.
In the United States, political partisanship has become correlated with vaccine hesitancy, and unvaccinated adults are now three times more inclined to favor Republicans than Democrats. According to a recent data poll from KKF. Republicans have also increased their opposition to the Biden administration’s vaccine and mask regulations, despite a recent increase in cases.
At Mercy Health Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just over a fifth of the 350 hospital beds are filled with Covid-19 patients, a dramatic change from the summer, when almost no one was hospitalized.
Jameson attributed the worsening situation to the rapid spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, with people taking fewer precautions because they were “exhausted” by months of social distancing. and many people are unvaccinated in some parts of the state.
“Patients who are in the ICU and the most seriously ill are barely vaccinated but we are getting older [vaccinated] patients, usually between the ages of 70 and 80, are admitted to the hospital. These are people who may not have such a good immune response,” Jameson said.
The Biden administration’s efforts to roll out a rapid ramp-up campaign was thwarted by controversy among government scientists. So far, only 18% of the fully vaccinated population has received a booster shot, most of them over the age of 50, according to government data.
The rise in Covid cases ahead of Thanksgiving means tough decisions for many families planning a holiday reunion.
Natalie Chaudhuri, a 21-year-old student at Georgetown University in Washington, said she has decided not to return to her home state of Texas, where both her father and mother are healthcare workers. Instead, she will meet her siblings in New York City.
Chaudhuri said that she and her siblings had all received booster shots before the holiday and will be tested before and after travel.
Chaudhuri added: “I was more worried, especially since we saw a spike after Halloween on campus. “But, we’re a majority-vaccinated campus, so that has helped me feel better about it.”
For many public health professionals, boosting immunization rates remains key to ensuring hospitals don’t become overwhelmed and death rates don’t skyrocket.
“Just because we’re facing a fifth wave, doesn’t mean it has to be deadly,” said David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Dowdy said the difference between last winter’s deadly Covid-19 wave and the coming surge is a much higher level of immunity, largely due to vaccines.
He added: “That immunity is not always enough to stop someone from getting sick, but in most cases it will help them survive and not have to go to the hospital.”