High levels of Coronavirus infection: 720 thousand new infections daily

High levels of Coronavirus infection: 720 thousand new infections daily

Coronavirus levels are so high, hovering near 2020's initial peak, that the World Health Organization urges people at high risk to take any booster shot.

According to wastewater monitoring and modeling by forecasters, COVID-19 infections in the United States are hovering near the levels of the pandemic's first peak in 2020 and approaching a delta peak in late 2021.

It's another sign that while the official state of the pandemic may be over, the days of Covid are still far away.

Viral sewage levels are not far behind all but one of the 2020 epidemic peaks — the initial peak in March 2020, which they have already surpassed. They lag slightly behind levels seen during Delta's deadly peak in late 2021, according to Biobot Analytics, which monitors such data for the federal government.

Forecasts released this week by Jay Wieland, a leading Covid modeler, reached the same conclusions. Weiland estimated Thursday that 650,000 Americans are being infected daily, with 1 in 51 Americans currently infected with the coronavirus.

Weiland expected an additional 7% to 10% of the US population would become infected within the next month and a half.

Biobot's data and Wieland's model show that US cases are starting to taper off. But it may only fall slightly further, if at all, before the expected fall and winter surge.

Regardless of infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise, according to the latest US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Hospitalizations rose about 9% from August 27 to September 2, the latest period the federal health agency made data available. Deaths rose nearly 5% from September 3 to 9.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the COVID-19 response, said at a press conference on Thursday that the World Health Organization continues to receive reports on worrying coronavirus trends, including a growing number of countries reporting an increase in infections, hospitalizations, and admissions to care units concentrated.

She added that vaccination, in addition to early diagnosis and access to care, can prevent severe illness and death. WHO officials have encouraged those at high risk of poor outcomes from the virus, such as older people and immunocompromised, to get a booster shot as soon as possible - even if it is not the latest XBB formula that has been rolled out in some parts of the world.

Officials said vaccination and boosting with whatever version is available "remains vital to saving people's lives now."

The United States agrees to modernize XBB boosters.

The CDC announced this week that all Americans 6 months and older are eligible for an updated coronavirus booster shot designed for the XBB Omicron strain.

On Tuesday, the agency's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to approve updated vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax for most of the US population. Shortly after, the federal health agency announced that it had accepted the committee's recommendation and that vaccines would be available later in the week.

The FDA still needs to approve Novavax's updated formula. But the agency authorized such reinforcements from Moderna and Pfizer on Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects sufficient booster supplies and should not need to prioritize certain groups — such as the elderly or the immunocompromised — for first doses, federal health officials said at a committee meeting on Tuesday.

All those eligible should get the new booster shot when possible, Dr. George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Fortune on Tuesday.

"It is clear that the vaccine remains safe and effective at all ages," he said. "People at high risk will particularly benefit from the vaccine."

In a statement provided to Fortune magazine, the American Medical Association said on Tuesday that it welcomed the committee's recommendations, considering that the updated vaccines would prevent about 400,000 hospitalizations and 40,000 deaths over the next two years.

"We continue to strongly urge everyone to stay up to date on COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus vaccines to protect themselves and their loved ones from severe complications, hospitalization, and death," the organization said, adding that it expects an increase in the number of deaths. In infections this fall and winter.

New booster, a dying breed

Last year's updated Omicron boosters, released on Labor Day, were bivalent, designed specifically for both Omicron and the initial strain of the coronavirus. This year's boosters are monovalent, meaning they are designed for just one strain of the virus: XBB.1.5 "Kraken," which took hold in the United States and elsewhere late last year into early this year.

The breed is now on the verge of extinction. XBB.1.5 is estimated to be responsible for just 2.2% of infections in the United States on Friday, according to the latest variant data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the latest vaccines are designed specifically for the dying Omicron strain, they are still expected to protect against severe illness and death from currently circulating diseases.

Vice-chair of medicine for data integration and analytics at Johns Hopkins University's Department of Medicine told Fortune on Tuesday that the new vaccine formula "is very similar to the EG.5-related variants circulating now."

Recent preliminary data show that the updated boosters should also provide adequate protection against the new highly mutated Omicron clone "Pirola" BA.2.86. It is not a member of the XBB family and is believed to be an evolution of the so-called "Stealth Omicron" BA.2.

Ray said that the updated vaccine's protection against Pirula will not be as good as the protection it provides against EG.5 and other XBB variants. However, immunity still involves more than antibodies produced by B cells in response to infection and vaccination. The other, often forgotten half of the immune system, T cells, protect against serious diseases. While T cells can't prevent infection like B cells, they can still help mitigate the impact of a BA.2.86 infection, an EG.5 infection, or others.

Concern is growing over disturbing 'facial' mutations.

While the "variant soup" in the United States remained largely unchanged on Friday, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experts continued to ring alarm bells about the rising proportion of variants that share the same mutations.

About 93% of coronavirus sequences in the United States over the past month contain the F486P mutation, Raj Rajnarayanan, assistant dean for research and associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and a leading tracker of coronavirus variants told Fortune. Friday. The mutation in the spike protein increases the virus's ability to infect effectively by attaching more tightly to human cells. Rajnarayanan refers to it as the defining breakthrough of the season.

He said about half of the sequences in the United States during the same period picked up the F456L mutation, which is also found in the spike protein. The mutation makes the virus better at evading immunity from vaccination and previous infection. He added that all American high breeds have this mutation.

Moreover, higher strains have also begun to pick up the L455F spike mutation, which provides greater ease in infecting cells, Ragnarayanan added.

Variant trackers refer to the F456L and L455F mutations as "cardiac" for complex scientific reasons involving amino acid changes. Experts say the duo has become one of the most worrying trends this season, with nearly 20% of wastewater samples tracked by Biobot containing such mutations.

Once again, this fall and winter, experts say, no species will have much of an advantage over the others. But variants with the "face combo" will likely become dominant and pose the biggest problem this season.

Moreover, the highly mutated "Pirola" BA.2.86 variant likely picked up a "flip" at some point, Rajnarayanan said, making it a bigger problem — and perhaps giving it the ability to spread more effectively.

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