The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released research Friday about the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 that informed its decision earlier this week to recommend that even vaccinated people resume wearing face masks in public settings in areas with high rates of transmission.
The research is based on a recent investigation of a coronavirus outbreak in Provincetown, Barnstable County, Mass. involving 469 cases of COVID-19. Of that number, 346, or 74% occurred in fully vaccinated individuals, while testing identified the delta variant was dominant.
It described several large public gatherings that brought people from around the U.S. to Barnstable County in Massachusetts from July 3 to 17. People began testing positive for COVID-19 around July 6, and many cited attendance at crowded indoor and outdoor bars, restaurants, and homes. Four of the five people who were hospitalized in this outbreak were vaccinated. No one died.
CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky said earlier this week that the agency had seen data that found fully vaccinated people who become infected have the same viral load as unvaccinated people and that they, too, can infect others.
“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus,” Walensky said in a separate statement on Friday. “This finding is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation.”
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Separately, an internal CDC document says health officials must “acknowledge the war has changed,” with delta rapidly spreading across the U.S. and rest of the world, according to the Washington Post, which obtained a copy.
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Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said on Twitter that some of the information was already known, but other parts were new and concerning.
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As Watchter explained, the document shows data estimating an R0 of 5-9 for the delta strain, vs. 2-3 for the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The R number rates how COVID-19 or any disease can spread and represents how many people one sick person can pass the illness on to, on average.
“We’ve been estimating R0 of ~6 for delta, or ~2x as infectious as original. It may be a bit worse than that,” he said. The delta variant is “more transmissible” than MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu and smallpox, and is caught as easy as chickenpox, the document shows.
The document acknowledges that vaccine breakthrough cases “may reduce public confidence in vaccines,” and is causing communication challenges for public health officials. Among those, the “public is convinced vaccines no longer work/booster doses needed,” therefore officials must “update communications describing breakthrough cases as ‘rare’ or as a ‘small percentage’ of cases.”
One slide estimates 35,000 symptomatic infections a week among 162 million vaccinated Americans, though it finds a far greater risk of disease, hospitalization and death among the unvaccinated.
The delta variant is driving cases higher in all 50 states and has created crisis conditions in states with low vaccination rates.
The AP has a tragic report on a family in Osage Beach, Mo., in which 10 members got sick and 31-year-old father is fighting for his life in intensive care. The family declined to get vaccinated because “we’re a strong conservative family,” the father told the AP, reportedly through labored breathing.
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The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that almost 164 million Americans are fully vaccinated, equal to 49.4% of the overall population, a number that has barely budged in weeks. That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
with German partner BioNTech
or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s
one-dose regimen. The AstraZeneca
vaccine that has been widely used in the U.K. and other places has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among adults 18 and over, 60.3% are fully vaccinated and 69.4% have received at least one dose, still short of President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of the adult population receive at least one dose by the July 4 holiday.
Elsewhere, China’s eastern city of Nanjing reported 13 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 patients on Thursday, bringing the total to 184 since July 20, as the country’s latest major outbreak caused by the delta variant continues, Reuters reported. Thousands of Chinese people are in lockdown to combat the spread.
Japan has extended its state of emergency to four new areas on top of Tokyo, the AP reported. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective from Monday until Aug. 31. Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which start Aug. 24.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set an aggressive target for reopening borders, which will only happen once 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, AFP reported. That comes a day after Sydney officials called on the military to aid in enforcing a lockdown as the nation’s biggest city struggles to contain a worsening outbreak.
The Czech government has approved a measure to offer civil servants two extra days of vacation if they get vaccinated, also from Reuters. The European Union country of 10.7 million reported 10.19 million doses of vaccines given as of Thursday, with 4.74 million people fully vaccinated.
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The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 196.7 million on Friday, while the death toll climbed above 4.2 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The data show that 4 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally. Duke University research suggests at least 11 billion doses are needed to achieve herd immunity across the world.
The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34.8 million cases and in deaths with 612,135.
India is second by cases at 31.6 million and third by deaths at 423,217 according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.
Brazil is second in deaths at 554,497 but is third in cases at 19.8 million. Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 239,997 but has recorded just 2.8 million cases, according to its official numbers.
In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 155,180, while the U.K. has suffered 129,809, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and the highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,922 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.