Tuesday, August 17, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
You may have noticed that I was away last week on vacation, but pretty much everything that happened fell in line with my previous predictions. As I outlined 10 days ago in “Vaccine Writing on the Wall” (and have been predicting since March), more and more CdnPSEs announced increasingly bold vaccine requirements for students this Fall. (Really, institutions promising a return to campus have little choice in the matter, and even some that were previously outspoken opponents of vaccine mandates have reversed their position in the face of the rising Delta variant.)
Stay tuned for my update on vax mandates next time, but in today’s “Pandemic Précis,” let’s look at the backpedalling among politicians, since my last roundup 2 weeks ago (“Delta Whiplash”). Thanks to vaccine hesitancy and COVID19 spread among children and youth, more and more politicians are recognizing the need to slow down reopenings and reimpose precautions we had hoped were behind us once and for all…
Around much of the English-speaking world, in both hemispheres, the pandemic is worsening as the Delta variant spreads, particularly among younger age cohorts…
Since my last Pandemic Précis, the world has reached the grim milestone of 200M confirmed COVID19 cases(and doubtless many others went unreported). Cases are continuing to rise in one-third of countries. Vietnamand Thailand are seeing record levels of infection. China is trying to contain a new outbreak, in its 4th week. The Olympics are over, but Japan is extending its state of emergency into September as COVID19 continues to surge. South Korea is grappling with a fourth wave and daily cases above 2,200. Iran is facing its fifth wave, and is shutting down road travel and non-essential businesses. Cases in Turkey have reached a 3-month high, with 26,597 new cases reported in a single day. Cuba is converting hotels into isolation centres and recalling doctors abroad as cases surge. Indonesia and the Philippines continue to grapple with surging infections and hospitals close to capacity.
“Sitting Ducks” for Delta
Across the US, daily COVID19 case counts are surpassing 123,000 and daily deaths 645 (doubling in the past 2 weeks). The head of the NIH anticipates that the US could easily see 200,000+ new daily cases within days, and warns that the unvaccinated are “sitting ducks” for the Delta variant. In particular, that includes children and youth: in the first 6 days of August, the US reported ~94,000 pediatric COVID19 infections, and COVID19 hospitalizations for American children and 30-somethings hit all-time highs this weekend – led by Florida and Texas, naturally, along with Arkansas (where just 8 ICU beds were available in the state last week). One Florida ICU was at 217% capacity yesterday, and another at 154%. Texas has seen a 165% increase in cases over the past 2 weeks, and hospitals are pitching tents for patient overflow. Mississippi doctors warn that the hospital system is on the brink of failure, thanks to the lowest vaccination rate in the country, and the uMississippi Medical Center has converted a parking garage into a field hospital.
“The harsh and frustrating reality is that the Delta variant has changed everything.” – Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon
Half-Vaxxed in the UK
The UK lifted most remaining health restrictions on Jul 19, which PM Boris Johnson celebrated as “Freedom Day.” Since then, case counts in the country have plateaued – with cases 8x higher than in May, and deaths 15x higher. (And with many people avoiding testing, cases are almost certainly being undercounted.) Scientists warn that, despite the summertime lull in COVID19 case counts, the Delta variant is likely to drive another spike in UK cases this Fall. With just 60% of the population fully vaccinated, critics say the government has “done a half vaccination job and then they’ve opened everything up.” The virus can circulate among asymptomatic vaxxed individuals, so the remaining 40% are bound to be exposed – and new variants will likely arise that are “even better at transmitting in vaccinated populations.” The uCambridge researcher who did pioneering work on the Delta variant says “we are going to see a resurgence in September of similar proportions to what we’ve just seen, if not worse.” AP
“If you’re going to rely on the vaccines, OK, then vaccinate everybody. But they’ve done a half vaccination job and then they’ve opened everything up. And this is a recipe for… things not going well in the next few months.” – Ravi Gupta, uCambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease
“We are going to see a resurgence in September of similar proportions to what we’ve just seen, if not worse… All this optimism is just misplaced right now.” – Ravi Gupta, uCambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease
Rolling Lockdowns for Australia
Australia’s capital city, Canberra, initiated a one-week snap lockdown last Thursday after reporting its first locally-transmitted case of COVID19 in more than a year, and 5 more confirmed cases among the man’s 1,800+ close contacts. The lockdown will continue until Canberra gets back to zero local transmission. The state of New South Wales has been reporting ~345 new locally-acquired cases each day. Sydney, Melbourne and some regional towns are already in hard lockdowns to try to contain the Delta variant, and the state government says it may call in extra military personnel to ensure compliance with lockdown rules in Sydney. The state of Victoria was out of lockdown for just over one week before stay-at-home orders were reimposed earlier this month, and now government epidemiologists warn that residents will endure “months of rolling lockdowns” until year-end. CTV | AP | The Age
New Zealand Stays Closed
By contrast, neighbouring New Zealand has eliminated the coronavirus largely through border closures and lockdowns. (Just 17% of the population is fully vaxxed.) Officials are still working to get first doses administered, delaying second shots for the time being, and maintaining its closed borders until the vaccine rollout is complete. PM Jacinda Ardern announced last week that New Zealand’s borders would start to reopen, “on a carefully managed basis,” in the first quarter of 2022. (Only fully-vaxxed travellers from low-risk countries would be exempt from a quarantine requirement, while unvaxxed travellers or those coming from high-risk countries will have to spend 14 days in a military-run quarantine hotel.) CTV
Canada’s Border Opens
On the other other hand (and the other side of the planet), Canada reopened its border with the US a week ago (Aug 9), permitting thousands of fully-vaxxed Americans to visit for non-essential purposes like tourism or family celebrations. The long lines of tourists had to show proof of a negative molecular test for COVID19 within the past 72 hours, and be at least 14 days past their final vaccine dose. The Canadian government was bowing to pressure from tourism lobbies and from US politicians too – who ironically have not yet reciprocated by lifting restrictions on Canadians entering the US. (Considering that pandemic outbreaks are currently far worse south of the border, that hardly seems fair.) Global
Canada’s 4th Wave
As you might expect, with pandemic health restrictions lifting, case counts are rising in many Canadian provinces. The 7-day average for new daily cases is approaching 1,300 for the country, led by BC, AB, SK, ON and QC. “We’re absolutely in the fourth wave,” says the scientific director of Ontario’s COVID19 Science Advisory Table. Canada’s chief PHO Theresa Tam concurs: “The latest national surveillance data indicate that a fourth wave is underway in Canada and that cases are plotting along a strong resurgence trajectory.” Case counts are rising, the R0 (reproduction number) is rising, and hospitalizations are rising – but with any luck, this wave won’t lead to overwhelmed hospitals or high fatality counts, thanks to our success in vaccinating the most vulnerable. (Fully-vaxxed people are 70% less likely to be hospitalized, and 51% less likely to die from COVID19.) Since May, the Delta variant has quickly become the dominant strain in Canada, responsible for 78% of cases by Jul 11. CBC | Global
“We’re absolutely in the fourth wave. There’s no doubt about that.” – Peter Juni, Scientific Director, Ontario’s COVID19 Science Advisory Table
Alberta’s 4th Wave
Last week, Alberta saw active COVID19 cases skyrocket to 3,769, the highest among Canadian provinces, just 6 weeks after the province “reopened for summer” on Jul 1. To make matters worse, the province announced it was ending most testing, tracing and isolation measures, and directed school boards not to alert close contacts of positive cases in classrooms. Still more worrisome, new calculations from the BC COVID19 Modelling Groupproject a fourth wave for Alberta that could surpass 4,000 new cases per day by mid-September, driven by the Delta variant, unvaccinated adults and children. (About 2,000 vaxxed Albertans would be infected each day too, but most would be asymptomatic and go undetected.) The AB government has done its own modelling for the 4th wave, but has not released it to the public. Calgary Herald
Still, with almost 40% of the total population unvaxxed, millions remain at risk, particularly children and youth…
For 19 months now, we’ve all been told that COVID19 is a particular threat to the elderly and infirm. The messaging has reinforced all the usual feelings of youthful invincibility, and may have fuelled some irresponsible behaviour among PSE students around the world. But as we vaccinate the population from the oldest on down, there is growing concern about the threat remaining for children and youth…
As of yesterday, we’ve fully vaccinated 63% of the Canadian population (or 73% of those eligible), ranging from lows of 51% in Nunavut and 57% in Alberta and Saskatchewan, to highs of 73% in the Yukon and 70% in the Northwest Territories. Of course, most of those not eligible for a COVID19 vaccine are children under age 12 – particularly in the north (YK, NWT and NV) and the prairies (AB, SK, and MB).
“This is not last year’s COVID. This one is worse and our children are the ones that are going to be affected by it the most.” – Sally Goza, Former President, American Academy of Pediatrics
“We’re going to see a lot of younger people getting sick and winding up in the hospital.” – Craig Janes, Director, School of Public Health Sciences, uWaterloo
Long COVID in Kids
For almost a year now, I’ve been emphasizing the many lasting consequences of COVID19, from cardiac and pulmonary damage to neurological symptoms, from loss of smell to memory loss, impaired cognitive function, and confusion. (Urologists are even investigating a potential link between COVID19 and permanent erectile dysfunction.) So-called “long COVID” is still poorly understood, but seems to afflict about 30% of those with severe cases – and children and youth may not be entirely safe. About 1 in 3,500 kids infected with COVID19 go on to develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C). A CIHR study is examining other lasting and delayed symptoms of long COVID in children, to determine the risk they face, and help direct government policy accordingly. Enhanced ventilation, physical distancing, and masking may be necessary to protect kids who return to class before they can be vaccinated. CTV
Hope for Kids
Almost 15% of Americans aren’t eligible for COVID19 vaccination because they are under age 12 – leaving ~48M kids vulnerable to the Delta variant as they return to school this fall. But pediatric clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines began in March, and Pfizer expects to have data on efficacy in children aged 5-11 by the end of September. That would clear the way for FDA authorization and potential vaccination of US children by late October. (Moderna seems to be running a few months behind.) Pfizer’s data on even younger children (6 months to 5 years of age) is expected shortly thereafter. Business Insider
Over the past 18 months, 4 increasingly transmissible COVID19 variants of concern have preoccupied epidemiologists worldwide: Alpha (UK), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil), and most recently Delta (India). But as the novel coronavirus spreads and mutates, more variants are inevitable…
The WHO has identified “Delta Plus” (B.1.617.2.1 or AY.1/2/3) as a “variant of concern,” that has now been identified in India, the UK, US, Canada, and other countries around the world. Delta Plus may prove to be more transmissible among young people, and more resistant to some treatments, but that remains to be determined – so far, the data and opinions are mixed, and it is unclear whether it will outcompete Delta itself. (To date, 70 cases have been confirmed in India, 39 in the UK, 2 in South Korea, and at least 3 cases in Manitoba.) Washington Post
The Lambda variant (C.37, originally identified in Peru) has now been confirmed in 29 countries, and in the US in South Carolina, Texas and northern Louisiana. Lambda currently accounts for 5.7% of all COVID19 cases in Canada, with the majority of them in Quebec. The WHO has designated Lambda a global “variant of interest,” since it remains unclear whether Lambda is more transmissible or virulent, but lab studies at uTokyo have found that 3 of its mutations help it resist antibodies generated by Chinese vaccines. (It’s responsible for 81% of infections in Peru since April, suggesting greater transmissibility too.)
Worse to Come?
Robert Redfield, former director of the CDC, predicts that within 2 to 4 months the US will face a more infectious new variant of COVID19, likely driving more hospitalizations. Newsweek
Although SARS-CoV-2 has likely mutated hundreds of thousands of times already, the Delta variant is the ancestor of 90% of all genomes sequenced (as of July). As the virus continues to evolve, incubated in unvaxxed and immunocompromised people, virologists predict it will continue to become even more transmissible, and better able to evade natural immunity from previous COVID19 infections. Eventually, current vaccines are likely to become less effective against these new strains too – but the symptoms and consequences of infection may become milder as the virus evolves into an endemic disease. Huffington Post
Republican governors continue to politicize mask mandates across the US, prompting some colleges and school districts to defy their political masters…
Fiddling as Texas Burns
Texas governor Greg Abbott banned mask and vaccine mandates of any kind back in May, and has said that schools will not be required to report COVID19 cases to parents or carry out contact tracing. (Nonetheless, 45 school districts in Texas have implemented mask mandates over his opposition.) Ironically, Abbott tweeted a photo of himself fiddling as his state’s hospitals (metaphorically) burned, à la Roman emperor Nero. Meanwhile Texas Senator Ted Cruz is still insisting “there should be no mandates – zero – concerning COVID,” and is attempting to introduce legislation to countermand CDC guidance that people should wear masks, whether vaccinated or not.
“Mad King” of Florida
COVID19 continues to ravage the state of Florida, surging 51% in the past week and prompting one epidemiologist to observe that “if Florida were another country, we would have to consider banning travel from Florida to the United States.” Florida governor Ron DeSantis banned school mask mandates in July, even threatening to withhold funding from districts and paycheques from superintendents who attempt to implement health restrictions anyway. (One school board trustee called DeSantis the “mad king of the COVID era.”) Outraged anti-mask parents are calling trustees “nazis” and “fascists” for attempting to counter the explosion of cases among children in the state – but after just 4 days of classes, one school district reported~500 students and teachers had tested positive for COVID19, and 4,500 students were in quarantine.
Cheering Failure in Alabama
With the lowest vaccination rate in the US, the state of Alabama is seeing surging COVID19 infections and hospitalizations, while disposing of 65,000 doses of vaccine that have gone unused due to low demand. At an Alabama Federation of Republican Women fundraiser, Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene mentioned Alabama’s vaccination failure to thunderous applause, and suggested people take up arms against volunteers promoting vaccination door-to-door. (Greene refuses to indicate whether or not she herself has been vaccinated against COVID19.) Washington Post
“Premier Scott Moe and his Pollyanna government are whistling past the graveyard, declaring that God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.” – Doug Cuthand, Columnist, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
Around North America, surging cases and overwhelmed hospitals are leading politicians to reverse course on reopening and lifting public health restrictions…
Ten US states have now reissued mask mandates in the face of the fourth COVID19 wave, driven by the Delta variant. Last week, Oregon imposed a face mask requirement on all residents aged 5+ in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status – and on all people aged 2+ on public transit. Newsweek
Alberta Backs Down
Since late July, there have been almost daily public rallies to protest Jason Kenney’s handling of the pandemic in Calgary and Edmonton, with counter-demonstrators trying to drown them out. 2 weeks ago, CMOH Deena Hinshaw publicly fell upon her sword, apologizing for causing “confusion, fear or anger” by the way she communicated plans to discontinue most COVID19 testing, contact tracing, and even the requirement to isolate those who test positive. (Hinshaw didn’t apologize for the policies, just the way they were communicated. For their part, premier Jason Kenney and Health minister Tyler Shandro blamed the entire plan on Hinshaw.) Last week, outrage hit a crescendo, and on Thursday the UCP government held an emergency cabinet meeting. On Friday, Deena Hinshaw announced that the testing and isolation measures would stay in place for an additional 6 weeks, until Sep 27. Hinshaw explained the decision was made because AB hospitalizations were exceeding projections by 60%, and in view of the rising hospitalizations of children in US states with similarly low vaccination rates – but it’s hardly a coincidence that the radical move has been postponed until a week after the looming federal election on Sep 20…
“Most Albertans want this to be over, but that’s not the reality. We’re well into the fourth wave. And unless we put some mitigation measures on this exponential growth, we’re in for a world of hurt.” – Joe Vipond, Calgary emergency room doctor
Because children under 12 still aren’t eligible to be vaccinated, it’s essential that everyone else in society gets double-vaxxed ASAP to protect them – which is why many political and campus leaders are imposing vaccine requirements. More on that next time!
While we’re thinking about the UK, here’s a notable continuing ed commercial from Greenwich…
Elevate Your Prospects
uGreenwich offers “flexible degrees for busy people” delivered on-campus one day per week. In this 1-min spot, students are encouraged to “elevate your prospects” with courses that “fit around your life,” in Business Management and Leadership or Law in Practice. YouTube
Phew! I forgot how much work the “Pandemic Précis” could be – and of course, by taking a week off, I doubled the amount of territory to cover! Sorry this is arriving in your inbox a bit late today.
As always, thanks for reading! I’ll be back tomorrow or Thursday with a roundup of the last week’s worth of vaccine mandate news…
Meanwhile, stay safe and be well!
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