July 14, 2021 — It’s been 18 months since a public health emergency was declared in the United States because of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, and questions still swirl around the crisis, as evidenced by an expert panel on Tuesday trying to come up with some hard answers.
Even as the debate over the timing and need for COVID-19 booster shots continues, how safe is it for the fully vaccinated to get a third dose? As cases and hospitalizations rise among some younger people and in some areas of the country, are deaths truly down or just delayed? Could the Delta variant eventually make “long-haul” COVID-19 symptoms worse?
Experts from the CDC and the Infectious Diseases Society of America addressed these and other uncertainties during a media briefing July 13.
“After several months of falling numbers of cases, followed by a prolonged plateau period, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases in many parts of the country,” said Jay C. Butler, MD, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, of the current pandemic picture in the U.S.
Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, and Utah, for example, are seeing greater increases in cases than elsewhere, Butler said.
“So [its] those areas where CDC is working closely with state, local or tribal health officials to be able to address the flare-ups,” he said.
Nationwide, the reported cases of COVID-19 are around 15,000 daily, up from approximately 10,000 just a few weeks ago. The test positivity rate nationwide “is also bumping up a bit,” to 3.5%, Butler said.
Currently, we have not seen an increase in the number of deaths,” he added, “but I would caution that the number of deaths generally lags a couple of weeks behind any increases in the number of cases.”
For example, in Utah, average weekly cases recently have increased 2.5-fold, Andrew T. Pavia, MD, said during the media briefing.
“It has not reached the levels of January or December,” but the difference in cases is “pretty substantial,” added Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City.
Pavia said that Utah’s intensive care units are “again running at above 100% capacity,” but they have not yet had to open auxiliary units.
Given the recent numbers, Pavia shared Butler’s concern that death rates could increase in the coming weeks.