President-elect Biden spent a lot of the final week unveiling his administration’s plans to open up and speed up vaccine distribution. In gentle of his inauguration tomorrow, and within the face of a US authorities response to COVID-19 that’s diversified between haphazard and nonexistent, his guarantees to sort out the pandemic may really feel like a recent breath of spring air. He’s boldly promised to ship 100 million vaccines inside his first 100 days in workplace.
The virus, after all, doesn’t care about calendar dates, and continues to unfold. Right here’s what else has been happening with the pandemic within the final week.
Variant COVID strains are elevating pink flags
B.1.1.7, the COVID-19 variant first recognized within the UK, has alarmed scientists for being as a lot as 50% extra transmissible than frequent present strains. Solely a handful of B.1.1.7 instances have been reported within the US up to now, however with restricted testing for the pressure, it’s seemingly already extra widespread than scientists know. Now, scientists from the CDC are warning that B.1.1.7 may grow to be the dominant pressure of the coronavirus by March.
The approaching risk of B.1.1.7 locations much more strain on authorities in any respect ranges to vaccinate as rapidly as doable. The results of failure might be dire: a renewed surge of the coronavirus within the spring, fuelled by B.1.1.7 or different fast-spreading strains prefer it, together with a whole bunch of hundreds extra deaths. Incoming CDC director Rochelle Walensky said that COVID-19 deaths within the US may surpass half one million by February. Left uncontrolled, B.1.1.7 is more likely to exacerbate that.
Thankfully, public well being officers imagine that different high-transmission variants first present in Brazil and South Africa aren’t circulating within the US—at the very least, not but. One other variant, L452R, has just lately unfold quickly via Northern California. Public well being officers are watching intently, however they don’t but know if L452R behaves in a different way from extra frequent strains.
The US will proceed to tighten restrictions for worldwide arrivals
The CDC introduced final week that, beginning on January 26, all travellers coming into the US by air—no matter citizenship standing—might want to check detrimental for COVID-19 not more than 72 hours earlier than departure. Airways will deny boarding to those that don’t have proof of a detrimental check. Such a requirement already existed for travellers from the UK, however this new extension brings the US in keeping with quite a few different nations that already mandate the identical.
As one in every of Donald Trump’s final acts within the presidency, his administration on Monday tried to finish blocks on journey from nations the place Covid was spreading quickly, equivalent to Brazil and far of Europe. That last-minute determination virtually actually isn’t going to stay. Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki tweeted that the incoming administration will solely strengthen these restrictions, stating “this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on worldwide journey.”
Social distancing has erased the flu season
The pandemic, and our response to it, has introduced on an fascinating aspect impact: the standard flu season appears to have all however vanished. Between late September and late December 2020, the CDC reported simply 1,016 influenza instances—lower than one-sixtieth the variety of that very same time interval in 2019. These numbers are much more placing since there’s been six instances as many exams for the flu, with many COVID exams additionally checking for a number of influenza strains.
It’s turning out to be a file low flu season, and scientists imagine that credit score belongs to individuals sporting masks, socially distancing, and washing their palms. These easy acts have been extra profitable at stopping the flu, specialists suppose, as a result of the influenza virus doesn’t unfold as aggressively as SARS-CoV-2.
Consultants final 12 months had raised alarms a few nightmarish “twindemic” state of affairs wherein hospitals can be overwhelmed by overlapping outbreaks of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu. Though flu season isn’t over—and COVID-19 is actually overwhelming many hospitals all by itself—that appears to have been averted.