Clickability tracking pixel

Is the Pandemic About Over?

The current signs are positive, but...

by Eric Holdeman / February 23, 2021

COVID-19 cases have been dropping, along with hospitalizations and deaths. Some states are ending shutdowns and mask mandates. Some major sporting venues are going to start letting fans attend in restricted numbers and March Madness will have fans in the stadiums. 

My question: Is it all a bit too soon? Declaring victory early is always an "unforced error" by politicians. There is good news today from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved for emergency use. The efficacy rate for this one-dose version of the vaccine in trials was 100 percent for keeping people out of hospitals if they did come down with the virus. In general it is over 70 percent, which when compared to the traditional flu vaccine is a high mark indeed. 

I still see the variants as being the wildcard in the mix of events and statistics we are seeing today. We may be done with the pandemic, but I don't think the pandemic is done with us. 

Note to self — no uptick yet in cases following the Super Bowl parties in people's homes. But, the jury is still out on that. We have a few more days to wait and watch for a surge in cases and then hospitalizations.

Here is a New York Times update: 

A pandemic question mark: The variants

Epidemiologists have been warning for months that more contagious and deadly coronavirus variants have been bubbling just beneath the surface in the U.S. and could soon lead to another powerful surge of the virus — just as many places are easing up on restrictions.
And yet, there have been a number of signs in the U.S., and across the world, that the pandemic is in decline. During the last month, new cases globally have dropped to half their peak while hospitalizations in the U.S. have reached their lowest point since November. Recorded deaths around the world are also falling, declining roughly 50 percent since late January.

So then, are the variants losing?  My colleague Carl Zimmer, who writes about science for The Times, told me that assuming the positive trends will continue was “presumptuous.”

“The dynamics of viruses are weird,” Carl said. “And this is our third peak, so you’d think we’d have learned our lesson by now not to be too smug.” It’s not certain that variants — like those discovered in South Africa or Brazil — will spread rapidly when they arrive in new territory. They may have showed up too late to the party, when another variant was already dominant, Carl said. Or the new population could be healthier, or with high rates of previous infection and antibodies.

But in the U.S., we just don’t know exactly what the variants are doing. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ramped up its sequencing of genomes, to about 9,000 cases per week, when it comes to our ability to watch the variants, Carl said, “Our eyesight is not great.”
Denmark, however, has 20/20 virus vision, and its experience may act as a warning to the U.S. The country sequences the genome of the vast majority of its coronavirus cases, and has found that even as a national lockdown drove down cases over the last few months, the virus variant B.1.1.7., first discovered in Britain, has continued to gain steam.

Camilla Holten Moller of the Statens Serum Institute, which models the epidemic for the Danish government, told me that they think the variant could make up as much as 80 percent of cases in the country, possibly by the end of this month. If that happens, she expects a sudden rise in infections and hospitalizations.  “And with B.1.1.7, it’s like speeding in a car,” she said. “Your reaction time is shorter.”

The California variant. Two new studies show that the variant first discovered in California in December is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus, and may be better at evading vaccines. The findings added to concerns that emerging mutants could hamper a decline in cases.

E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs