The moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived: The virus is finally over. Now we can go outside without a mask and schmooze with friends without worrying about contracting a terrible illness. What a relief! But can we really declare victory? To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the virus may be greatly exaggerated.
According to Spectrum NY1.com, “After months of watching COVID-19 numbers in the United States fall, it’s no longer accurate to say the virus is in retreat.”
The latest statistics show that new cases are increasing even though fewer tests are being administered. True, the number of newly infected is still relatively small - way below what it was at the height of the pandemic. But it is moving higher.
On July 1 there were 12,809 new infections, up 15% from June 20 according to data compiled by The New York Times. And these cases were not localized. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have reported increases in the last two weeks of June, and 19 of these the numbers have risen by 23% or more.
Certainly, there is no reason to be alarmed. But it does make one wonder: Are these just a “blip,” or has the downward trend reversed course and begun moving in the wrong direction?
Hopefully it has not, but based on recent developments, there is reason for concern. As of early July, there have been more than 184 million cases of the virus worldwide, and over 4 million people have succumbed to it.
The US accounts for the country with both the highest number of cases - 34.3 million - as well as the most deaths - 612,000 - and both these numbers are moving higher.
Many other countries also are suffering. The virus has completely overwhelmed India’s health care system and devastated entire regions, resulting in more than 28.6 million cases and 341,000 deaths (according to one report, the number of deaths there had been under-reported by one million). Meanwhile, nearly 17 million cases were reported in Brazil, where there were some 500,000 deaths.
A very unpopular lockdown in the UK had to be extended for an additional month because a variant was spreading so quickly; it caused such widespread concern that Germany mandated that everyone arriving from the UK had to be quarantined. Hong Kong took even stricter measures: It banned travelers from the UK entirely.
Parts of Australia were recently locked down for two weeks and parts of China for even longer because of fresh outbreaks. The number of new cases in Israel is surging - even among people who were already vaccinated. Portugal has imposed strict travel restrictions. The number of new cases in Russia has increased sharply every single day in June, as have the number of deaths. The number of new cases are surging in Italy too, and the number of deaths keep hitting new records. Olympics organizers have decided to ban spectators from the Games in Tokyo after Japan declared a state of emergency because of rising cases.
Questions, But No Clear Answers
So what are we to make of these developments? Is it safe for societies to reopen and for people to mingle at work and in social settings, or do we still need to wear masks and limit social contacts as much as possible? The answer may be a little of both.
Health officials say the increases are largely a combination of two factors. One is the Delta variant, which is much more contagious than originally believed. The second is that many people refuse to get jabbed.
The Delta variant was first identified in India in December 2020, but since then has spread to at least 80 countries. The US is one of them. The CDC says it has been detected in all 50 states and is responsible for a majority of the new cases here.
Experts say it is also responsible for the virus surging in other countries. Although the UK has the highest vaccination rate in Europe, Delta spread there like wildfire. Chile had a similar experience. 78% of Chileans received at least one vaccine and 62% had both; it is, nevertheless, surging there too.
“A Vax? No Thanks”
Studies have shown that the vaccines approved in the US are highly effective against Delta. In mid-June, New York’s Gov. Cuomo said the statewide vaccination rate was 70%. However, this still leaves many other people who refuse to get jabbed.
Delta is not the only variant of COVID; other mutations - possibly even more dangerous - are emerging. One of these, identified by Indian health officials, is Delta Plus. In late June, the World Health Organization (WHO) called it a “variant of concern.” Dr. Fauci called it the “greatest threat” to the world’s efforts to contain COVID-19.
There are other variants, too. Many COVID patients in India are developing “black fungus,” a condition that attacks COVID patients. It has been described by Scientific American as “an epidemic within a pandemic,” has a mortality rate higher than COVID, and spreads even faster. Lambda, still another new variant, has just been recognized as a global threat. The WHO said “neutralizing antibodies” could make it spread quickly or potentially increase resistance to vaccines. Lambda has been detected in at least 23 countries (fortunately not in the US).
The virus has been especially difficult in Israel and the pain is not over. Israel’s Health Ministry has warned that “The efficacy of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has plunged” as the Delta variant spreads throughout the country. Separately, four cases of Delta Plus have been identified. According to one report, Israel may have to impose another lockdown during the upcoming Yomim Tovim.
Investors also should follow this story because if, chas v’shalom, there’s another outbreak of the virus, it also could have many ramifications for the stock market, our businesses, and our jobs. A new outbreak may not be as severe as the one last year because so many people have been vaccinated, but nevertheless it could be serious because over the last year many people have lost so much money and in some cases all of their savings. Business have lost many assets and customers. And the deficits at the federal and local government levels have absolutely skyrocketed.
Judging by the few people wearing masks and the many ignoring social distancing guidelines, it appears that the variants are not causing much concern. But before we let our collective guard down, maybe we should double check with medical experts. Is it really okay to resume our normal lifestyles? Are there any specific measures we should take to protect ourselves and others from the variants?
Rather than trying to answer these and related questions on our own, a more prudent course would be consulting a doctor and asking him or her for advice about the best ways to remain safe. There is no reason to panic from the latest virus-related news. But there is also no reason to ignore it.
Sources: businessinsider.com; cnbc.com; gothamist.com; israelnationalnews.com; medicalxpress.com; nbcnewyork.com; ny.gov; nypost.com; spectrumny1.com; scientificamerican.com; time.com; zerohedge.com; YouTube: Delta Plus Variant: More Transmissible, Infectious And Resistant?; DW News