COVID-19 cases are spiking again across the U.S. and Canada, particularly among young people—made worse by variants—undoing months of progress.
On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded 57,695 new cases, its largest seven-day average jump since January 12—an almost 10 percent increase, Bloomberg reported. On Thursday, Canada, a country with a much smaller population, recorded 5,000 new cases for the first time since January. Experts say the country could average more than 7,000 per day in April if swift action isn’t taken.
“We need to do more restrictions now or else things will get even worse,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist Dr. Jeff Kwong.
Of particular concern is the rise of new variants, especially B.1.1.7, first detected in the U.K.. According to Center for Diseases Control, across the U.S. there are 8,337 cases of B.1.1.7. Canada had more than 5,000 active B.1.1.7 cases as of Friday, according to Health Canada.
All this, as vaccine campaigns steadily roll out. It’s expected that 50 percent to 80 percent of people need to be fully vaccinated for countries to achieve herd immunity, and neither country has come close. A little more than one-quarter of Americans have received at least one shot of a two-dose vaccine, and Canada, a country with no ability to produce its own vaccines, has jabbed 10 percent of its population at least once, according to Our World in Data’s vaccine tracker.
“It’s really nothing short of a tragedy for somebody to get infected and die at this stage,” Isaac Weisfuse, a medical epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told Bloomberg.
Kwong said more people may need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity for new variants, since they’re more contagious.
“If we start seeing no more cases, we’ll know we have herd immunity,” Kwong said. “It’s not like one day we flick the switch and we’re all safe. It gradually gets safer and safer, and right now, it's not yet safe.”
U.S. states and Canadian provinces imposed varying degrees of restrictions and lockdown measures to contain the virus, but in recent months, many of those were lifted. Philadelphia, which last week averaged 400 new infections per day, compared to 287 the week before, is now opting not to ease restrictions alongside the rest of Pennsylvania, where bars, restaurants, and even stadiums will be allowed to welcome more people as of Easter Sunday..
“I’m concerned that the rest of the state is opening up too much,” said Philadelphia’s Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.
Kwong told VICE World News that the premature easing of restrictions can confuse people.
When you loosen restrictions, you give the message to people that it is OK to do other things,” Kwong said. “I'm concerned it's sending mixed messages to people like it’s an ‘all clear’ but really that’s not the case.“
New Jersey, Washington, the Dakotas, and Georgia are among at least 19 states also reporting a rise in new infections, AXIOS reported.
In Canada, British Columbia was heralded for its swift action last year that helped it avoid some of the worst pandemic outcomes. Now, it’s reporting about as many new cases as Quebec, a province with a much larger population, including 800 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant.
Alberta was in full lockdown in December and managed to dramatically decrease its number of active cases from more than 20,000 in December to below 4,300 in February. Now cases have climbed to more than 6,000 since the province reinstated in-person dining and gyms. One-fifth of current cases are new variants.
Ontario reported more than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and again Friday—the largest increases in nearly two months, CTV reported. Quebec is the only province enjoying a plateau of new cases, likely because it has some of the most stringent restrictions in Canada, including an evening curfew that keeps people at home.
Experts say that while vaccines offer hope, it’s important people keep adhering to public health measures, including wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding close contact. Otherwise, preventable deaths will keep happening.
“Amid increasing case counts, shifting severity trends, and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern in heavily impacted areas of Canada we need to remain vigilant,” Canada’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Thursday. “Maintaining public health measures and individual precautions is crucial.”
Kwong acknowledged that “everyone is tired” and “we’re all fed up” with the pandemic, which likely makes it difficult for people to follow pandemic restrictions. But if we loosen our grip now, all the efforts made in the last year will be all for nothing, he said.
“We’re two-thirds of the way through this, so hopefully within the next five or six months most people will be vaccinated,” Kwong said.”Hang in there.”
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