THE STATE OF COVID-19: The Virus
By: Marvin S. Hausman, MD – Jul 12, 2021
A lot has happened in the sixteen months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. Protocols to stem the spread of the virus were developed within a matter of weeks. Tests were made available within months—and to date, over 500 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in the US alone. Several state-of-the-art vaccines were developed in record time and have been widely available to all adults in America for months now.
That is the good news. These past sixteen months, however, have also seen the development of several troubling circumstances. Throughout this article series, I have covered testing, vaccines, and immunity tracking. As many of us hope for a “return to normal,” it is time to look at the state of the virus itself.
I will look at six distinct areas of COVID-19 in America today.
- Status of vaccinations
- Rates of infection and death
- A look at the variants
- The present danger
- Where we go from here
In order for us to safely move forward, we first need to know where we are. Let’s begin by looking at the status of vaccinations.
Status of Vaccinations
3.29 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the globe. Over 157 million people in America are fully vaccinated. This translates into approximately 48% of the country’s entire population and 58% of people over the age of eighteen. But those vaccination rates are not evenly distributed across the country.
There is a 38% difference in vaccination rates between the highest and lowest rate states. Vermont leads the way, with 76.4% of Vermonters over the age of eighteen fully vaccinated. When we look at the same age group in Mississippi, on the other hand, we find that only 38.4% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated.
This is the troubling reality of vaccinations in America. As other parts of the world beg for vaccines, here in the United States, we seem destined not to reach herd immunity despite the wide availability of vaccines.
There is a lot of misinformation and dis-information out there about the vaccines. Please consult my last article for a quick review of the facts. If you need more information, please refer to the World Health Organization, The Center for Disease Control, and the Mayo Clinic (to name only a few of the leading medical, immunological, and scientific organizations actively fighting these pernicious myths surrounding both the virus and vaccines).
The long and the short of it is this: if you are eligible to get vaccinated, you should do so as soon as possible. The vaccines are effective against the virus. The vaccines have been shown to decrease the likelihood that a vaccinated person will act as a carrier for the virus. The vaccines can, do, and will save lives. Get vaccinated.
The biggest reason to get vaccinated is that this pandemic is far from over.
Rates of Infections and Death
Despite all the “back to normal” celebrations and the nationwide lifting of COVID-19 safety restrictions, the pandemic is not over. No one—not the CDC nor the WHO—has lifted the global pandemic designation.
In fact, in many parts of the world, things are getting worse. According to the CDC, over 125 counties worldwide are still considered high or very high risk for COVID-19. The UK, Brazil, Chile, India, Spain, Mexico, Canada, and Germany are among those high and very high risk countries. Over 40 countries are banned from traveling to the United States due to COVID-19 infection rates.
As of this writing, over four million people have died worldwide from COVID-19; over half a million in the United States. There has been a 14% rise in new cases nationally over the last two weeks, with a few states reporting a rise of over 90% during the same period.
Couple that with two additional facts—schools have been shown to be locations for rapid transmission of the virus, and we are only a couple months away from the start of an en-mass return to in-person schooling—and it is easy to see that we are by no means out of the woods yet.
In fact, thanks to the variants, the woods might be far darker and deeper than we even realize.
A Look at the Variants
Currently, there are four variants of COVID-19 that the World Health Organizations designates as “variants of concern.” They are known as variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. They are all problems, but the one that is, justifiably, getting the most attention right now is the Delta variant.
The Delta variant is a mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that appears to be the most contagious version of the virus yet. It spread so rapidly that, in a matter of months, it became responsible for 99% of new infections in the UK.
The Delta variant is here in the United States. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Delta variant now accounts for over 20% of new infections in America, doubling in just the last two weeks.
The Delta variant confounds in other ways. Currently, the CDC and WHO are no longer in agreement about safety procedures. In May, the United States’ Center for Disease Control revised its recommendations for vaccinated people, removing the need for masks and social distancing. Due to the Delta variant, however, the World Health Organization still recommends both mask-wearing and social distancing for all people regardless of vaccination status.
The Present Danger
This is a confusing time. In fact, in many ways, it could be the most dangerous moment of the pandemic thus far. This is because of a confluence of several factors:
- We are all eager to get “back to normal.”
- Less than half of us are fully vaccinated.
- Most safety precautions have been lifted.
- Several highly contagious variants are on the loose.
- People are traveling again.
As someone with several decades of experience as an immunologist, I can say that this looks like a perfect set of circumstances for a COVID-19 resurgence. It is certainly not how you win the battle against a deadly virus.
I know most of you do not want to hear that. You want to be told that you can take that beach vacation that you’ve been planning for months now. That you can go to concerts and packed arenas. But I cannot say that to you.
What I can say is that if you are vaccinated, you are far more likely to fend off these variants than someone who is not vaccinated. I can say that if you are vaccinated, you are far less likely to transmit the virus and its variants to someone else. Vaccinated people are far less likely to have severe side effects if they contract the virus.
What I can is that if you are not vaccinated—because you are too young, because you have a condition that prohibits vaccinations, or because you don’t believe in them—you are still very vulnerable . There is no herd immunity to protect you. The new Delta variant (and its even more problematic sub-variant, Delta Plus) is dramatically more contagious and dangerous than the virus we have battled for the last year and a half.
Where We Go From Here
The path ahead must be viewed in two ways:
- Individual Actions
- National Plans
When it comes to what you should do as an individual right now, my mantra for the present moment would be:
Remain calm, remain cautious, remain vigilant.
Given the highly contagious nature of the Delta variant and the fact that many of us are still not vaccinated (and others cannot yet get vaccinated), I would highly recommend that you still practice standard pandemic safety regardless of your vaccination status:
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands.
- Social distance.
- Steer clear of crowds.
- Sanitize high-contact surfaces.
- Refrain from unnecessary travel.
- Quarantine if you are sick.
- Get tested if you have symptoms.
Right now, there is still so much to lose that I cannot endorse the nationwide relaxation of the safety standards. I am not, however, suggesting that everyone go back to quarantine. That is not necessary (and hopefully, it won’t be necessary again). But right now, we are inching closer and closer to a resurgence of the virus.
Now, when dealing with a possible resurgence on a national level, I think we can and should do better. The CDC should follow the lead of the WHO and reinstate the safety precautions for the time being. They have helped us get to where we are, and we need them to get to where we want to be: which is, safely, back to normal.
We also need a nationwide set of policies for testing, vaccinations, safety, and so much more. During the first sixteen months of the pandemic, each state fended for itself and designed its own plans. That should end now. We need leadership from our federal government. We need clear guidance and a comprehensive system for dealing with the virus.
Immunity tracking must be part of that national policy. At this moment, we are still unsure how long the vaccines last. Tests can only show if you have or have had the virus. Immunity tracking can identify and measure a person’s current state of immunity. This is a vital step in our journey back to normal. Without it, we risk reigniting the pandemic and sending the world back into quarantine.
For more on immunity tracking, see my article on COVID Passport.
This pandemic is not over. We cannot pretend it is simply because we want it to be. SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t care about any of our vacation plans. It has only one goal: to multiply. To help itself along, it has already mutated several times.
The greatest medical minds in the world are working to stem the spread of the virus. We must do our part to help them. As individuals, we must remain calm, remain cautious, and remain vigilant. As a nation, we must standardize our tactics and strategies for defeating this virus. Immunity tracking must be part of that national plan.
Celebrating the arrival of summer is warranted. Celebrating the fact that you are fully vaccinated is justified. But celebration must not slide into complacency. The youngest among us still cannot get vaccinated. The best way to protect them is to get vaccinated and keep your pandemic safety precautions for a bit longer.
If, as they say, the children are our future, then it is up to us to keep that future safe.
Until next time, please be sure to get vaccinated if you are eligible. For help finding your nearest vaccination location, please visit the CDC’s website.
Marvin S. Hausman, MD, is an immunologist and board-certified urological surgeon. He has more than 30 years of drug research and development experience with various pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers International, Mead-Johnson Pharmaceutical Co., E.R. Squibb, Medco Research, and Axonyx. Dr. Hausman founded Medco Research, which in the 1980s became one of the top contract research organizations (CRO) and a successful pharmaceutical company. At Axonyx, Dr. Hausman successfully licensed in and developed inhibitors for acetyl and butyrylcholinesterase and the drug Posiphen®, a compound that inhibits synthesis of amyloid precursor protein (APP). Dr. Hausman has done residencies in General Surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and in Urological Surgery at UCLA Medical Center. He received his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine.
DISLAIMER: This information should not be considered comprehensive and is not a substitute for discussing these matters with your doctor or medical professional. Please consult with your insurance company, your doctors, and all applicable health professionals for personalized advice and information regarding COVID-19 and your health.