Case Update, March 3rd, 2021; When will the Pandemic be Over, New Variants and Vaccines

This is a case update.  I’ll also talk about when the pandemic may be considered “over”, and briefly discuss the new SARS-2 variants.

For the US, the downward trend in new cases has paused.  New cases have been steady for the past 2 weeks.  The daily new cases continue to be higher than the first wave, and almost as high as for the second wave this summer.  The new case map from endcoronavirus shows recovery, but this particular map only shows changing trends.  The small number of counties in red may be misleading, because many of these counties are rural, so represent very few actual cases.  If you look at the top 10 counties for new cases in the country, there is still a significant number of new cases in several counties.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site.
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, March 3rd, 2021
Endcoronavirus County Level Map, March 3rd, 2021

We continue to see a downward trend in California and San Diego County. However, the new case numbers remain higher than they were during the 1st wave.  

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site. “Active Confirmed Cases” numbers are calculated based on the assumption that patients confirmed to have SARS-2 virus at least 17 days ago have recovered.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. See also regularly updated slides from SD County.
Graph is by me, from data collected from San Diego County Public Health. See also regularly updated slides from SD County. “Active Confirmed Cases” numbers are calculated based on the assumption that patients confirmed to have SARS-2 virus at least 17 days ago have recovered.

When will this be over?  The 3rd wave this Fall and Winter is winding to a close, which makes many speculate on when the pandemic will be over.  I’m going to speculate on this, and what criteria we may use to determine this, but remember that I am not a physician or epidemiologist.  This is my informed but not expert opinion.  I am a molecular biologist specializing in infectious disease testing.

The most significant event happening right now that will impact the progress of the pandemic is the ongoing vaccination program going on in the US. We are currently into Phase 1B, vaccination of all individuals over 65. If you are over 65, I encourage you to consider vaccination.  Check in with your local health department to find out how you can be vaccinated.  You know I have some concerns about the ADE issue, but on balance, those over 65 will almost certainly benefit from the vaccination despite these concerns. As more vulnerable people are vaccinated, we will continue to see a drop in new cases, as well as a further drop in severe symptoms and mortality. Soon, we will enter Phase 1C, in which anyone over 16 with COVID risk factors will be able to receive the vaccine. 

Once everyone who is vulnerable has been vaccinated, this may rightfully be considered the “end” of the pandemic in the minds of many.  We should also pay attention to the number of COVID deaths. In order for the pandemic to be considered truly over, the number of deaths must be very low as well. I’m not willing to speculate yet on exactly what “very low” means.  Keep in mind also that many other countries do not yet have the vaccine, so vaccination in the US alone will not end a global pandemic!  Even after the epidemic in the US is over, travel to and from other countries may still be restricted.

Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site.
Graph is by me, from data collected from Johns Hopkins University COVID site.

Variants: We have seen several SARS-2 variants arise over the last few months.  Most of these variants have made the virus more infectious but not more pathogenic.  This is because they alter the Spike protein, the viral protein that is used to infect our cells.  This is also the protein that the immune system, and the vaccines, target to neutralize the virus.  However, the vaccines currently in use appear to still work on most variants.  The exception to this is the South African variant (501.V2) which some suggest may evade the current vaccines.  Concerns about this are strong enough that Moderna is currently working on a vaccine against 501.V2.  This variant is already present in many countries, including the US.

The Second Shot: I haven’t been vaccinated yet, but I’ve heard several accounts of people feeling significant flu like symptoms after their second COVID vaccination. It’s actually not unusual to have flu like symptoms after a vaccination. Flu like symptoms are your body’s normal response to an invasion and many of the symptoms we experience are designed to help you fight an infection. That’s why so many infectious diseases produce “flu-like symptoms”. So unless your symptoms are severe, or your fever is over 102°, you don’t need to get medical attention. If you are prone to allergic reactions after a vaccine, inform your healthcare provider before you get one.

So we have lots of good news, but we need to continue to be diligent!

Don’t fear, but be smart!
Erik

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