A rise in COVID-19 cases in Europe driven by the highly contagious omicron variant is fueling concerns that it will be followed by a new wave of cases in the U.S., which has typically lagged Europe by a matter of weeks.
Europe is seeing a fresh rise in cases that involves a subvariant of omicron dubbed BA.2, which is also spreading in the U.S. where it accounted for about 23.1% of all COVID cases in the U.S. in the latest week, according to the CDC, up from 13.7% a week ago.
Eric Topol, founder and head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, warned in a Guardian article that the U.S. has repeatedly failed to heed the warnings from Europe that a new surge was occurring.
“When it comes to Covid, the United States specializes in denialism. Deny the human-to-human transmission of the virus when China’s first cases were publicized in late 2019. Deny that the virus is airborne. Deny the need for boosters across all adult age groups. There are many more examples, but now one stands out – learning from other countries,” Topol wrote.
He noted that new waves of cases have been identified in at least 12 European countries stretching from Finland to Greece, with some quite marked, such as Austria, which is now exceeding its pandemic peak.
“This is the sixth warning from the UK and Europe to the United States,” wrote Topol.
Wastewater sampling sites monitored by the CDC are also signaling a coming rise in cases, the CDC said earlier this week.
A new wave in the U.S. would come at a bad time after lawmakers stripped COVID funding from a recent spending bill, meaning there are no moneys earmarked for vaccines and testing and no plan for a fourth dose, should one be needed, he said.
“Unfortunately, we have a mindset that the pandemic is over, which couldn’t be further than the truth, as I wrote about in the epidemic of Covid complacency,” he said.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday that cases had climbed globally in the week through March 13, breaking a streak of declines that began in January.
The U.S. numbers are still falling from the omicron peak, and the nation is now averaging 31,152 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 43% from two weeks ago.
The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 25,553, down 44% from two weeks ago. Deaths are averaging 1,268 a day, down 31% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday the country will “stick with” its zero-COVID strategy, state TV reported, as the world’s most populous nation battles its largest outbreak since the early days of the pandemic, Medical Express.com reported. The omicron variant’s spread has caused China to lock down several regions, including he southern tech hub of Shenzhen, home to 17.5 million people.
• Officials in South Korea tried to calm public fears amid concerns about a faltering pandemic response as daily cases and deaths reached record highs Thursday, the Associated Press reported. The 429 deaths reported in the latest 24 hours were nearly 140 more than the previous one-day record set on Tuesday. South Korea counted 621,266 new cases to set a fresh record, breaking the previous record of 400,624 set a day earlier.
• President Joe Biden named Dr. Ashish Jha as new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator on Thursday, replacing Jeff Zients who has held that position for the last 14 months. Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, is “a well-known figure to many Americans from his wise and calming public presence,” Biden said in a statement. Biden also thanked Zients for his work, noting that when he took on the role, less than 1% of Americans were fully vaccinated, less than half the schools in the U.S. were open, and American lacked any at-home testing ability. “Today, almost 80% of adults are fully vaccinated; over 100 million are boosted; virtually every school is open; and hundreds of millions of at-home tests are distributed every month. In addition, the U.S. leads the global effort to fight COVID, delivering more free vaccines to other countries than every other nation on Earth,” he said.
• Irish Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, Micheál Martin tested positive for COVID-19 and had to abruptly leave a St Patrick’s Day celebration at the White House late Wednesday, according to BBC News and other media reports. Martin was attending the Ireland Fund dinner, at which he was to be presented an international leadership award, and was seated beside House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other guests. Martin was replaced by Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Dan Mulhall, who delivered his speech on his behalf. Martin isn’t expected to participate in the traditional shamrock handover ceremony in the Oval Office on Thursday.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 464 million on Tuesday, while the death toll rose above 6.06 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 79.6 million cases and 968,343 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 216.8 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.3% of the population. But just 96.2 million are boosted, equal to 46% of the vaccinated population.