Pandemic over? ‘Not so fast,’ says the virus

The latest variant of COVID-19 infects those fully vaccinated and has brought a steady increase in cases and hospitalizations

With the newest variant that laughs at vaccines, COVID-19 is on the rise in Floyd County, Virginia, and the nation. “America has decided the pandemic is over,” reports The Washington Post “The coronavirus has other ideas.”

In a report published Sunday:

The latest omicron offshoot, BA.5, has quickly become dominant in the United States, and thanks to its elusiveness when encountering the human immune system, is driving a wave of cases across the country.

The size of that wave is unclear because most people are testing at home or not testing at all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past week has reported a little more than 100,000 new cases a day on average. But infectious-disease experts know that wildly underestimates the true number, which may be as many as a million, said Eric Topol, a professor at Scripps Research who closely tracks pandemic trends.

Antibodies from vaccines and previous coronavirus infections offer limited protection against BA.5, leading Topol to call it “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.”

In Floyd County, 11 new cases were reported over the weekend by the Virginia Department of Health, part of 7,876 infections throughout the Commonwealth.

Nationally, hospitalizations have been rising since March, even with more than 75% of the adult population vaccinated, says the Centers for Disease Control. While the total hospitalizations of more than 38,000 is well below the record of 162,000 plus in January, the rises say Covid-19 remains a serious threat to the health and welfare of our nation.

More than 300 Americans die daily, a rate that has been relatively stable over the past two months but one that is not dropping, CDC reports. Americans, health experts say, are dismissing the virus as over while walking around without masks and ignoring other safety protocols.

“It’s the Wild West out there,” Ziyad Al-Aly, an epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Post. “There are no public health measures at all. We’re in a very peculiar spot, where the risk is vivid and it’s out there, but we’ve let our guard down and we’ve chosen, deliberately, to expose ourselves and make ourselves more vulnerable.”

The Post adds:

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan,would like to see more money for testing and vaccine development, as well as stronger messaging from the Biden administration and top health officials. She was dismayed recently on a trip to Southern California, where she saw few people wearing masks in the airport. “This is what happens when you don’t have politicians and leaders taking a strong stand on this,” she said.

More than one-third of Americans live and work in localities rated “high risk” by the CDC, including Montgomery, Carroll, Franklin, and Roanoke counties, which border and surround Floyd.

The Roanoke Valley reported more than 200 new cases of the virus over the weekend while infections in the New River Valley topped 100.

But many people don’t seem to care. In some cases, many are tired of taking precautions that could save their lives.

“It feels as though everyone has given up,” Mercedes Carnethon, an epidemiologist at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said in interviews. She admits that she is also forgoing precautions.

“I feel there is a very limited amount that I can do individually, short of stopping my life,” Carnethon says. “It’s risky. I’ll be catching covid at an inconvenient time. I can hope it is milder than the first time I caught it.”

Any reinfection, however, brings more risks, including heart attacks, says Dr. Al-Aly at Washington Hospital in St. Louis.

“Reinfection adds risk,” he says. “You’re rolling the dice again. You’re playing Russian roulette.”

Reports the Post:

Omicron blew through the largely vaccinated population last winter with stunning ease, and since then the subvariants have arrived in rapid succession, starting with BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 in the spring, and now BA.5 and its nearly identical relative BA.4.

Vaccines are based on the original strain of the virus that emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The Food and Drug Administration has asked vaccine makers to come up with new formulas that target BA.5 and BA.4. Those boosters could be ready this fall.

But there is no guarantee that these latest subvariants will still be dominant four or five months from now. The virus is not only evolving; it’s also doing so with remarkable speed. The virus may continually outrace the vaccines.

“I worry that by the time we have a vaccine for BA.5 we’ll have a BA.6 or a BA.7. This virus keeps outsmarting us,” Al-Aly said.

“We are in a very difficult position with regard to the choice of vaccine for the fall because we’re dealing with a notoriously moving target,” says Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top adviser for the pandemic. A few days after he said that in interviews, he came down with the virus.

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“The Leader is fully vaccinated and double boosted, and has very mild symptoms,” said Justin Goodman, Schumer’s spokesperson, Sunday evening. “Consistent with the CDC guidance, Leader Schumer will quarantine this week and work remotely.”

The race is on…and the virus is winning.