Hawaii Covid-19 Infection and Death Rates Climb
Hawaii health officials reported 200 new cases of COVID-19 statewide on Sunday, including 128 on Oahu, 30 in Maui County, 12 on the Big Island, nine on Kauai and 21 residents diagnosed out of state.
There are currently 129 people hospitalized in Hawaii with COVID-19, including 20 patients on ventilators.
The state has seen an average of 175 new cases a day in the last week — an 87% increase from Dec. 26 when the 7-day average was 93.
The official state death toll from the virus is 309. Civil Beat calculates at least 315 people have died from the disease, including six deaths on Hawaii island confirmed by local county authorities that are still pending medical verification by the state.
Across the state, 3.4% of people tested during the past week have been confirmed to have COVID-19. On Oahu, that figure is 4.4%.
“We believe things will get worse as we get into January”
…Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease specialist, said in a radio interview early Thursday (Jan. 7th).
It didn’t take long for him to be proved right: Things immediately got worse.
By Thursday night, the United States had set a record for daily reported deaths, with at least 4,111, as well as a record 280,292 new infections. Those figures were an uncomfortable reminder that while many Americans were fixated on the political events roiling Washington after a mob stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, the pandemic hadn’t ceased wreaking havoc.
The United States broke its single-day record for new coronavirus cases for the second consecutive day on Friday with more than 300,000 cases, as public health officials warned the winter surge would only worsen.
It was the first time the country had crossed the 300,000-case mark, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also at a near-record high — 131,889, according to the Covid Tracking Project — and officials across the nation reported more than 3,890 new deaths on Friday, the third-highest daily tally of the pandemic.
First U.S. case of mutant COVID-19 virus identified
Just as vaccines begin to offer hope for a path out of the pandemic, officials in Britain on Saturday sounded an urgent alarm about what they called a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus circulating in England.
On Tuesday of this week, a Colorado man became the first known U.S. case of the newly identified strain of Covid-19 circulating in the UK. The new variant is thought to be far more contagious than the previous strain of COVID-19 in which scientists, the world’s medical community, and governments have built their response assumptions and the current vaccines have been based. Newly established variants have prompted some countries to restrict travel to-from the UK.
The Colorado man who contracted the new variant, called B.1.1.7, is in his 20s, and had no travel history, according to the state’s health department. In a statement, Colorado Governor Jared Polis said that health officials are conducting an investigation into how the man might have contracted the virus, while he recovers in isolation.
Although the new variant had not been found in the US until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that it was likely already circulating through the country.
The new variant has also recently been detected in at least 17 countries, including South Korea, Spain, Australia and Canada. On Christmas Day, the CDC issued new guidelines for travelers from the UK, requiring proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
All viruses evolve, and the coronavirus is no different. “Based on scientific understanding of viruses, it is highly likely there are many variants evolving simultaneously across the globe,” Mr. McDonald, of the C.D.C., said. “However, it could take weeks or months to identify if there is a single variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 fueling the surge in the United States similar to the surge in the United Kingdom.”
False Reports of a New ‘U.S. Variant’ Came From White House Task Force
Reports of a highly contagious new variant, published on Friday by multiple news outlets, were based on speculative statements made by Dr. Deborah Birx.
The erroneous report originated at a recent meeting where Dr. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, presented graphs of the escalating cases in the country. She suggested to other members of the task force that a new, more transmissible variant originating in the United States might explain the surge, as another variant did in Britain.
Her hypothesis made it into a weekly report sent to state governors. “This fall/winter surge has been at nearly twice the rate of rise of cases as the spring and summer surges. This acceleration suggests there may be a USA variant that has evolved here, in addition to the UK variant that is already spreading in our communities and may be 50% more transmissible,” the report read. “Aggressive mitigation must be used to match a more aggressive virus.”
Dismayed, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to have the speculative statements removed but were unsuccessful, according to three people familiar with the events.
Agency scientists did not agree with her assessment, according to one frustrated C.D.C. official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
UK Mutant COVID-19 Virus
In recent days, the world has watched with curiosity and growing alarm as scientists in the U.K. have described a newly identified variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious than, and genetically distinct from, more established variants.
Citing the rapid spread of the virus through London and surrounding areas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the country’s most stringent lockdown since March. “When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” he said.
The British announcement also prompted concern that the virus may evolve to become resistant to the vaccines just now rolling out. The worries are focused on a pair of alterations in the viral genetic code that may make it less vulnerable to certain antibodies.
Viruses mutate all the time. Most of the new variants die out. Sometimes they spread without altering the virus’s behavior. Very occasionally, they trigger dramatic changes.
And the question now facing scientists is straightforward: Does the mutated virus represent an increased health risk? Or has its recent rapid spread through southern England occurred because it has arisen in people who are infecting a lot of other people, possibly because they are ignoring Covid-19 restrictions?
The British variant has 23 mutations, including several that affect how the virus locks onto human cells and infects them. These mutations may allow the variant to replicate and transmit more efficiently, said Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government.
But several experts urged caution, saying it would take years, not months, for the virus to evolve enough to render the current vaccines impotent.
“No one should worry that there is going to be a single catastrophic mutation that suddenly renders all immunity and antibodies useless,” Dr. Bloom said.
Scientists are worried about these variants, but not surprised by them. Researchers have recorded thousands of tiny modifications in the genetic material of the coronavirus as it has hopscotched across the world.
Some variants become more common in a population simply by luck, not because the changes somehow supercharge the virus. But as it becomes more difficult for the pathogen to survive — because of vaccinations and growing immunity in human populations — researchers also expect the virus to gain useful mutations enabling it to spread more easily or to escape detection by the immune system.
“This thing’s transmitting, it’s acquiring, it’s adapting all the time,” said Dr. Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, who last week detailed the deletion’s recurrent emergence and spread. “But people don’t want to hear what we say, which is: This virus is mutating.”
What we Know So far …
Scientists believe that although initial mutated versions of COVID-19 appear to be more contagious, it does not cause a more severe illness than other established variants. Research is still ongoing, however, and it remains uncertain whether the new variant is actually more transmissible due to a genetic advantage, or whether it is simply spreading so widely due to fluke super-spreader events. A report from Public Health England found that the new variant in the UK has not been linked to higher rates of hospitalization or death.
Is it more contagious than other viruses?
It appears so. In preliminary work, researchers in the U.K. have found that the virus is spreading quickly in parts of southern England, displacing a crowded field of other COVID-19 variants that have been circulating for months. Some scientists have raised the possibility that the increase in transmission is at least partly the result of how it infects children. Normally, children are less likely than teenagers or adults to get infected or pass on the virus. But the new variant may make children “as equally susceptible as adults,” said Wendy Barclay, government adviser and virologist at Imperial College London.
Does it cause more severe disease?
There is no strong evidence that it does, at least not yet. But there is reason to take the possibility seriously. In South Africa, another lineage of the coronavirus has gained one particular mutation. The mutant variant is spreading quickly through coastal areas of South Africa. And in preliminary studies, doctors there have found that people infected with this variant carry a heightened viral load — a higher concentration of the virus in their upper respiratory tract. In many viral diseases, this is associated with more severe symptoms.
Will the variant render the new COVID-19 vaccines ineffective?
Many experts doubt that it will have any great impact on vaccines, although it’s not yet possible to rule out any effect.
The issue is whether the new variant will be able to bypass the protection offered by the Covid-19 vaccines now being administered across Britain and United States.
“If the new variant was going to have a big impact on disease severity, we would have seen that by now,” said Ewan Birney, deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and joint director of its European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized two vaccines, one from Moderna and the other from Pfizer and BioNTech. Both vaccines create immunity to the coronavirus by teaching our immune systems to make antibodies to a protein that sits on the surface of the virus, called spike. The spike protein latches onto cells and opens a passageway inside. Antibodies produced in response to the vaccines stick to the tip of the spike. The result: The viruses can’t get inside.
It is conceivable that a mutation to a coronavirus could change the shape of its spike proteins, making it harder for the antibodies to gain a tight grip on them. The mutations include eight in the spike gene. But our immune systems can produce a range of antibodies against a single viral protein, making it less likely that viruses can easily escape their attack.