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Will the US see another upsurge in COVID case numbers?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker, the U.S. has seen a large decrease in COVID-19 cases and deaths in past weeks, prompting many states and local governments to relax or even eliminate COVID-19 restrictions and preventative measures. Across the U.S. the majority of states have fully reopened, and have decided to allow citizens to make their own decisions about preventative measures they will take to avoid the virus. Many countries, like Canada and the United Kingdom have also decided to relax restrictions and reduce measures such as masking and indoor capacity limits. The Canadian federal government recently announced that Canada will soon end its pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers entering Canada.  In addition to easing COVID-19 restrictions, The Daily Mail reported that ten U.S. states are dropping daily COVID-19 data reporting. This news comes as officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the “pandemic is far from over.”

WHO officials are not alone. As public health experts and researchers examine the shift in pandemic management, some warn that it is premature to declare victory over COVID-19 and others have proposed the question, “When are we going to see the next wave of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.?” The uncertainty of a COVID-19 endemic, a disease that settles into the population at a stable case rate and becomes a manageable part of everyday life, is stemming from BA.2, which is one of three identified sub-variants of Omicron, and a variant that is a cross between Delta and Omicron, Deltacron

The BA.2 variant is thought to be much more contagious than Omicron, however Omicron still remains the dominant strain around the world. The BA.2 variant has led to a significant increase in COVID-19 cases across Western Europe, Asia, and North America, and has become the dominant strain in Denmark. Medical professionals have raised concern that the BA.2 variant will soon become the dominant strain in the U.S., and will create a large uptick in cases due to its aggressive and contagious nature.  

As AM analysts look at cases worldwide, it is clear that the U.S. is on a downward trend from the very high winter peak of COVID-19 infections that were driven by Omicron. However, on March 4, 2022, cases began to increase worldwide, reversing the downward trend  seen in previous weeks. This is not consistent with the decrease in case rates we have previously seen with each new variant wave. This is concerning, especially as many countries in Europe, Asia, and North America have decided to treat COVID-19 as an endemic disease, with little to no restrictions. While the U.S. braces for the BA.2 variant to cause the next wave of infections, it is concerning that many jurisdictions  have decided to end most COVID-19 restrictions and precautions. 

Policy makers in the U.S. have decided to change their approach when handling COVID-19, creating the perception among the population that variants, such as BA.2, pose less of a threat than previous ones. These variants are closer to home than we think, and there should still be major causes for concern. According to researchers at the CDC, “The BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron was estimated to represent 23.1% of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of March 12.” Reuters reported that scientists have been tracking a rise in cases that have been caused by the BA.2 variant. The CDC’s publicly available data shows “the sub-variant now makes up 39% of total cases in regions including New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In states such as Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island, the sub-variant now makes up about 38.6% of total cases.”

In the U.S., cases are still decreasing overall, but this does not mean that we will not experience another large wave of cases from another COVID-19 variant. Currently, the U.S. is reporting a 7-day average of over 31,000 cases. Although this number is among the lower end of daily averages experienced over the past two years,  it is still an enormous number of cases. With restrictions being lifted across the U.S., safety precautions removed and testing being scaled down, it is extremely likely that we will see a rise in cases before the variants become the dominant  strain. We also know from previous experience  that what happens in Europe tends to impact the U.S. a few weeks later. This means that we could possibly see a large rise in COVID-19 infections in the near future, and another big wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The difference this time will be that relaxing safety restrictions will facilitate community transmission and may place us at a huge disadvantage when it comes to combating the spread of COVID-19 infections. 

The recent reductions in testing and infection surveillance operations across the country will result in fewer infections being identified. This will result in the perception that case numbers are down and in turn lead to a false sense of security. Relying on people to report their positive test results is not a realistic solution. Our informal research is indicating a rise in infections in schools and in communities across the country. We are also seeing that breakthrough transmissions among fully vaccinated and boosted individuals are increasingly common and long covid symptoms are having a detrimental impact on people’s health and wellbeing. While it is widely accepted we must learn to live with COVID-19, we must be prepared for the somewhat inevitable future surge.

AM’s analysts will continue to monitor the latest developments and will track and report on  COVID-19 cases and new variants.

AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at c.orlea@amllc.co.

 

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