Saturday, March 20, 2021

Variants Require Restrictions And Vaccinations And More Restrictions Mein Führer!!!

WaPo |  If you live in the northeastern part of our country, you don’t put your winter jackets into storage at the first sign of spring because you know a cold snap is likely lurking around the corner. The same must be true of the pandemic.

No matter where you live, it is too early to relax restrictions that continue to have a critical role in controlling this pandemic. From California to Maine, Florida to Seattle, the covid-19 winter is not yet done, and highly infectious variants are threatening new storms.

Vaccination numbers are climbing steadily, and coronavirus cases have been declining. The end of the pandemic is in sight. But the latest national data, which show case rates have plateaued, indicate that we are not there yet. Over the past week, we have seen about 50,000 new cases reported daily. That’s not far from the height of the surge last summer.

National data also miss disturbing state and local trends: About 15 states have more cases than they did two weeks ago, and about 19 states have higher test positivity rates than two weeks ago, indicating higher rates of infection. Hospitalizations, which typically lag infections by two to three weeks, have begun to inch up in some places. Deaths from covid-19, which typically lag another two weeks behind hospitalizations, may rise again in April — all while states begin to loosen restrictions. That’s a problem.

Blame it on the variants of this virus. The B.1.1.7 variant, the most widespread of the variants identified to date, is between 43 and 90 percent more infectious than the version of the virus we have been living with for most of the past year. And this variant was estimated to make up 30 to 40 percent of U.S. infections earlier this month, meaning about 20,000 new cases each day are likely B.1.1.7 and are way more infectious. Vaccinations are in a footrace against these variants, and the variants are giving us a run for our money.

Consider what’s happening in Florida, where thousands are celebrating spring break without masks or social distancing. Right now, the rate of cases and deaths in Florida are about the same as nationally, and the number of daily infections is holding steady. But the B.1.1.7 variant now represents more than half of Florida’s cases. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is right to warn about a new surge of illness, hospitalization and death as a result.

B.1.1.7 is on a trajectory to become the dominant variant in the United States in the next couple of weeks. To understand why this matters, look to Europe, where the rise of the variant saw large increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Data suggest that B.1.1.7 is so much more infectious that it can shift outbreaks into overdrive, turning small upswings in cases into lethal, prolonged spikes. And there’s some data that it is more deadly, too.

So are we destined for a fourth surge? Not necessarily. The vaccines in use in the United States are effective against B.1.1.7, and we are much further along in our vaccine rollout than Europe, which had barely begun doling out shots when the variants were picking up steam. But we must keep vaccinating, and fast. By the end of April, every high-risk American should have at least one dose in their arms, massively reducing the risk of death from infection. Until that happens, we should keep restrictions in place. We are doing a great job on vaccinations. But on keeping public health measures in place until high-risk people are vaccinated? Not so much.