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New cases of coronavirus are on the decline in the US after staggering peaks after the holiday last month, but experts say it is too early for new COVID-19 vaccines to have an effect.
The positive trend is also not guaranteed to continue, as new and more transferable variants threaten to reverse it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
“Although we have seen a decline in cases and admissions and recently dropped deaths, the cases are still extraordinarily high, still twice as high as the highest number of cases during the summer,” she said this week.
The decline in cases is likely due to a natural depression after record trips followed by indoor holiday gatherings triggered an increase in infections, said Dr. Sarita Shah, an associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, the agency screened 1.9 million travelers the day before Christmas Eve and set a pandemic record.
“We have seen these rises and falls in the COVID case now count a few times, and they seem to really track holidays or people’s movements,” Shah said.
COVID-19 symptoms take between two and 14 days to appear after exposure, and the cases reached exactly two weeks after the Christmas break, noted Brittany Baker, study coordinator and clinical assistant at North Carolina Central University.
During this peak, the United States began reporting more than 200,000 new cases per day. Baker said the Americans may have been afraid to take more precautions against COVID-19, which could have contributed to the current decline.
“When we start reading as a general public that the number is increasing, we have a sense of withdrawal,” she said.
Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said the falling number of cases could not be attributed to the COVID-19 vaccine, as not even one-tenth of the U.S. population has been vaccinated. According to the CDC.
And it is not clear when the rollout of the vaccine, which started in December, will begin to appear in declining case numbers.
Experts say the prognosis continues to change as more drug manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson, seek emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, the Biden administration is trying to secure more doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and say the vaccine’s expansion is eligible for speed rollout.
“We are vaccinating our most vulnerable populations right now, but when we start moving into the broad population, the population that drives the numbers will … that’s when we start to see an impact on the total number,” Shah said.
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She said Americans can begin to see the vaccine’s impact on case numbers as early as summer, but it will be clearer by the fall.
Health experts must also learn more about how the vaccine prevents the spread of COVID-19 before they know how it will affect future case numbers, El-Sadr said.
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks, but three mutations have been identified that are of concern in the United States (February 1).
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said in a CNN town hall last week, and evidence shows that it can prevent asymptomatic transmission, but there is currently no definitive evidence. It may be possible for someone to be exposed, have no symptoms and still have enough virus in their throat to infect someone else.
Protecting against asymptomatic people is important, as a CDC study in early January found that asymptomatic cases account for more than half of all transmission, El-Sadr added.
“We want to make a dent in the prevention of asymptomatic infection,” she said. “We want to protect people from disease to control the epidemic.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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