Once again, hopes that COVID-19 had finally been defeated in the US, Europe and a handful of other countries are being dashed by hysterical warnings about the "Delta" variant, a COVID mutation so infectious that epidemiologists are now concerned that humanity may never reach herd immunity from SARS-CoV-2 and its genetic heirs.
The Delta variant has inspired another wave of fearmongering from 'experts' like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently said it's the biggest threat currently facing the global COVID response. The media has lapped up these warnings, inspiring some local health authorities to revive mask-wearing rules like they just did in LA.
Although the uptick is barely discernible from looking at a graph of daily cases, the seven-day average of new cases in the US, at 12.6K, has just risen off of a record low, potentially marking the end of a steep decline from 69K daily cases in April.
Experts have blamed the spread of Delta, particularly in southern states with lower vaccination rates, for driving the renewed spread. The strain, which was first identified in India, has become the dominant strain in the UK - it's what inspired PM Boris Johnson to delay the end of England's lockdown - while also spreading across regions like Southeast Asia and Africa.
A team of analysts at Bank of America wrote in a recent note to clients that the Delta variant is so contagious that even the US might struggle to achieve herd immunity. That's consistent with warnings from experts like Dr. Scott Gottlieb who believes COVID-19 will likely become endemic, flaring up every winter (in the US) just like the flu.
During particularly bad outbreaks, states may revive social distancing measures, particularly for indoor public spaces like grocery stores, even for those who have recently been vaccinated.
Whether the this uptick ends up being a blip, or the start of something bigger, Dr. Fauci's warnings about Delta have clearly whipped certain US media outlets into a frenzy. Just take a look at this recent headline from CNN.
CNN is hardly alone.
Meanwhile, some have said that the concerns about the Delta strain are overblown. "Don’t let the fearmongers win," tweeted Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday. "New public England study of delta variant shows 44 deaths out of 53,822 (.08%) in unvaccinated group.”
Don’t let the fearmongers win. New public England study of delta variant shows 44 deaths out of 53,822 (.08%) in unvaccinated group. Hmmm.— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 29, 2021
Roughly 300K new people are getting a COVID jab in the US every day. Now, 54% of the US population has at least one dose. The country’s vaccine campaign has been one of the most successful in the world (even if President Biden is on track to miss his July 4 vaccination target).
However, newly available county-level data show how the situation on the ground can be very different depending on the local vaccine acceptance rate. The bottom 20% of counties, mostly in the south and American west, have seen only 28% of people receiving a first dose of a vaccine, on average, while 24% are fully vaccinated.
Over in the UK, despite an extension of current restrictions that's set to expire on July 19, health officials just saw the biggest daily jump in new cases in months, largely driven by the Delta variant. Still, PM Johnson said this week that he expects to lift restrictions entirely when they expire on July 19. Why? Because the UK has shown that the Delta variant isn't that big of a threat if a population has high vaccination rates.
"The UK has shown that the variant is not such a health challenge if people have been vaccinated. We are concerned that Australasia and the smaller markets in Asean could continue to be impacted. We remain cautious on Asean equities. Watching for any sharp increase in Covid cases in Asean," said Gary Dugan, chief executive officer at the Global CIO Office in Singapore, according to Bloomberg.
Back in the US, President Biden is preparing a slate of travel and events for the long Independence Day holiday weekend, including a barbecue for more than a thousand people to celebrate his administration's progress combating the pandemic. He will be declaring "Independence" from COVID, but with some local officials ramping up restrictions once again, is that really accurate?