Connect with us

Government

18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic – a retrospective in 7 charts

A lot has happened since the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. A portrait in data highlights trends in everything from case counts, to research publications, to variant spread.

Published

on

September 11, 2021 marks the 18 month anniversary of the WHO declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic summerphotos/Stock via Getty Images Plus

A year and a half into what the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, it’s an understatement to say that Americans are exhausted.

I’m an epidemiologist and an internationally recognized science communicator, and I’ve often found myself running between COVID-19 meetings asking “how did we get here?”

Figuring out the “how” is essential to preparing for the future. In trying to make sense of these past 18 months, I’ve found it helpful to broadly categorize the U.S. pandemic journey thus far into five phases: Scramble, Learn, Respond, Test and Hope.

Scramble: What’s going on?

In early 2020, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, hit the United States. The first documented case was a traveler who landed in Seattle from Wuhan, China on Jan. 15. Only later did public health officials find that SARS-CoV-2 was already spreading throughout the community.

It wasn’t until March that Americans were forced to take the pandemic seriously, as states began to implement stay-at-home orders. While civilians were struggling to figure out child care, working from home and Immunology 101, epidemiologists started to react.

But maybe a better word is “scramble.” The U.S. did not have the public health infrastructure in place to effectively respond. A chronically underfunded and politicized public health system hampered the nation’s real-time response.

Epidemiologists were scrambling, left to rely on volunteers to report national level public health data because there was no centralized public health data system in the U.S. Public health officials were scrambling to enact safety recommendations and contact trace because of limited resources. Data scientists, like those at Johns Hopkins University, were scrambling to share accessible data for decision-making. Scientists were scrambling to develop COVID-19 tests. And everyone was scrambling to figure out how to communicate the evolving threat of the virus to American lives. From the beginning, the seeds were sown for a reactive, rather than proactive, approach.

Learn: Are we doing anything right?

Once the Northeast started to get under control, June 2020 was fairly quiet across the nation. Is this done? Maybe the decrease is due to weather? People started relaxing.

Then July hit. In one month, cases in the South were as high as they had been in the Northeast months earlier. The West started creeping up, too. The game of whack-a-mole began as there still wasn’t a coordinated, national response.

Health departments were expanding capacity for testing, tracing and surveillance. A multitude of multidisciplinary, academic teams were forming to understand COVID-19 from microscopic-level virology all the way to population-level social implications.

This is when published, peer-reviewed data on COVID-19 started coming through. In fewer than five months, scientific literature database Scopus indexed more than 12,000 publications. Researchers started discovering long COVID-19 symptoms and figuring out effective protective measures like social distancing and wearing a mask. Researchers also learned more about superspreader events and how COVID-19 is transmitted through the air – although this wasn’t officially recognized by the WHO or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until about a year later.

While the flood of evidence provided scientists and clinicians with critical information, a wave of retractions pulling papers with erroneous or unreliable data began to appear. This, coupled with lack of accurate scientific communication from unbiased sources, fueled a concurrent infodemic – an epidemic of misinformation and public health threats that researchers, social media companies and public health officials are still learning how to identify, mitigate and treat.

Respond: Bring it on, virus!

Then came winter, which proved to be a perfect storm of pandemic fatigue and holiday travel. This resulted in our biggest pandemic wave yet. More than 3,000 people were dying per day in the U.S.

Thankfully, help was on its way: vaccines. And not just pretty good vaccines – vaccines that blew efficacy out of the water. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine proved to have an efficacy of 95%, significantly above the threshold target of 50%. Thanks to over 500,000 clinical trial volunteers, decades of mRNA research, an estimated US$39.5 billion and fast-moving scientists, the vaccines got to the public in record time. And, while the vaccine rollout was rough, more than 260 million doses were administered by May 2021 in the U.S.

With vaccines, though, came new challenges: a new fight against disinformation (no, mRNA does not change your DNA) and a struggle to understand breakthrough infections.

In the meanwhile, new COVID-19 variants arrived on the scene. Suboptimal genomic surveillance made it difficult to identify where and what variants were spreading. The race between vaccination and variant spread was upon us. The fight was far from over.

Test: We’re tired

Early summer 2021 for Americans was blissful. The U.S. reached an all-time pandemic low in terms of COVID-19 cases. People who were vaccinated were told they could take off their masks, while some unvaccinated people took this carte blanche. More Americans started traveling again and getting back to working in person.

But then the delta variant knocked on the door. Significantly more transmissible and severe than the original strain of the coronavirus, it first created a tsunami of cases in the South that then spread to every corner of the United States.

Unfortunately, pandemic fatigue has settled in. And the pandemic is pushing the U.S. response to its limits. It’s testing the amount of pressure vaccines can withstand. It’s testing health care system capacity. It’s testing the resilience of public health and health care workers. It’s testing the ability of scientists to effectively communicate ever-evolving research findings. And it’s testing the public’s patience as pediatric vaccines undergo clinical trials.

Hope: This will end

Every epidemic curve comes down. And this one will too. But even after it comes down, the pandemic will still be far from over.

There’s still trauma to be addressed. Families were robbed of proper funerals and goodbyes. Friendships were ripped apart by politically charged misinformation and disinformation. Millions of people lost their jobs. And frontline workers are still not OK. A survey of public health workers across the U.S. found that more than half reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition from March to April 2021.

The U.S. will also need to self-reflect as a nation. In order to deal effectively with the next infectious disease crisis, the U.S. will need to create centralized public health systems and expand genomic surveillance, hospital networks and testing capabilities. Scientists need to revamp how they accessibly communicate science and research so the CDC can build public trust again. And by removing politics from public health, science might be able to infiltrate echo chambers instead of feeding them.

Americans need to prepare so when the next pandemic hits, everyone will be ready to mount a proactive, effective fight against a common enemy: the virus.

[Get The Conversation’s most important coronavirus headlines, weekly in a science newsletter]

Katelyn Jetelina receive(s/d) research funding from NIH, CDC, DOJ, DHHS, Merck, and several non-profits (THR, HABRI, MMHPI, Arnold Foundation, HOGG). She is the sole founder and owner of Your Local Epidemiologist. She is the Senior Scientific Advisor to Judge Lina Hidalgo in Harris County.

Read More

Continue Reading

Spread & Containment

Huge Dock Worker Protests In Italy, Fears Of Disruption, As Covid ‘Green Pass’ Takes Effect

Huge Dock Worker Protests In Italy, Fears Of Disruption, As Covid ‘Green Pass’ Takes Effect

Following Israel across the Mediterranean being the first country in the world to implement an internal Covid passport allowing only vaccinated citize

Published

on

Huge Dock Worker Protests In Italy, Fears Of Disruption, As Covid 'Green Pass' Takes Effect

Following Israel across the Mediterranean being the first country in the world to implement an internal Covid passport allowing only vaccinated citizens to engage in all public activity, Italy on Friday implemented its own 'Green Pass' in the strictest and first such move for Europe

The fully mandatory for every Italian citizen health pass "allows" entry into work spaces or activities like going to restaurants and bars, based on one of the following three conditions that must be met: 

  • proof of at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine

  • or proof of recent recovery from an infection

  • or a negative test within the past 48 hours

Via AFP

It's already being recognized in multiple media reports as among "the world's strictest anti-COVID measures" for workers. First approved by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet a month ago, it has now become mandatory on Oct.15.

Protests have been quick to pop up across various parts of the country, particularly as workers who don't comply can be fined 1,500 euros ($1,760); and alternately workers can be forced to take unpaid leave for refusing the jab. CNN notes that it triggered "protests at key ports and fears of disruption" on Friday, detailing further:

The largest demonstrations were at the major northeastern port of Trieste, where labor groups had threatened to block operations and around 6,000 protesters, some chanting and carrying flares, gathered outside the gates.

    Around 40% of Trieste's port workers are not vaccinated, said Stefano Puzzer, a local trade union official, a far higher proportion than in the general Italian population.

    Workers at the large port of Trieste have effectively blocked access to the key transport hub...

    As The Hill notes, anyone wishing to travel to Italy anytime soon will have to obtain the green pass: "The pass is already required in Italy for both tourists and nationals to enter museums, theatres, gyms and indoor restaurants, as well as to board trains, buses and domestic flights."

    The prime minister had earlier promoted the pass as a way to ensure no more lockdowns in already hard hit Italy, which has had an estimated 130,000 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

    Meanwhile, the requirement of what's essentially a domestic Covid passport is practically catching on in other parts of Europe as well, with it already being required to enter certain hospitality settings in German and Greece, for example. Some towns in Germany have reportedly begun requiring vaccination proof just to enter stores. So likely the Italy model will soon be enacted in Western Europe as well.

    Tyler Durden Sat, 10/16/2021 - 07:35

    Read More

    Continue Reading

    Spread & Containment

    Tracking Global Hunger & Food Insecurity

    Tracking Global Hunger & Food Insecurity

    Hunger is still one the biggest – and most solvable – problems in the world.

    Every day, as Visual Capitalist’s Bruno Venditti notes, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population)..

    Published

    on

    Tracking Global Hunger & Food Insecurity

    Hunger is still one the biggest - and most solvable - problems in the world.

    Every day, as Visual Capitalist's Bruno Venditti notes, more than 700 million people (8.8% of the world’s population) go to bed on an empty stomach, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

    The WFP’s HungerMap LIVE displayed here tracks core indicators of acute hunger like household food consumption, livelihoods, child nutritional status, mortality, and access to clean water in order to rank countries.

    After sitting closer to 600 million from 2014 to 2019, the number of people in the world affected by hunger increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In 2020, 155 million people (2% of the world’s population) experienced acute hunger, requiring urgent assistance.

    The Fight to Feed the World

    The problem of global hunger isn’t new, and attempts to solve it have making headlines for decades.

    On July 13, 1985, at Wembley Stadium in London, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially opened Live Aid, a worldwide rock concert organized to raise money for the relief of famine-stricken Africans.

    The event was followed by similar concerts at other arenas around the world, globally linked by satellite to more than a billion viewers in 110 nations, raising more than $125 million ($309 million in today’s dollars) in famine relief for Africa.

    But 35+ years later, the continent still struggles. According to the UN, from 12 countries with the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption in the world, nine are in Africa.

     

    Approximately 30 million people in Africa face the effects of severe food insecurity, including malnutrition, starvation, and poverty.

     

    Wasted Leftovers

    Although many of the reasons for the food crisis around the globe involve conflicts or environmental challenges, one of the big contributors is food waste.

    According to the United Nations, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons of wasted food per year, worth approximately $1 trillion.

    All the food produced but never eaten would be sufficient to feed two billion people. That’s more than twice the number of undernourished people across the globe. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa each year.

    Solving Global Hunger

    While many people may not be “hungry” in the sense that they are suffering physical discomfort, they may still be food insecure, lacking regular access to enough safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development.

    Estimates of how much money it would take to end world hunger range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year.

    But to tackle the problem, investments must be utilized in the right places. Specialists say that governments and organizations need to provide food and humanitarian relief to the most at-risk regions, increase agricultural productivity, and invest in more efficient supply chains.

    Tyler Durden Fri, 10/15/2021 - 23:30

    Read More

    Continue Reading

    Economics

    China Coal Prices Soar To Record As Winter Freeze Spreads Cross The Country

    China Coal Prices Soar To Record As Winter Freeze Spreads Cross The Country

    One week ago we discussed why the "worst case" scenario for China’s property crisis is gradually emerging; to this we can now add that China’s worst case energy crisi

    Published

    on

    China Coal Prices Soar To Record As Winter Freeze Spreads Cross The Country

    One week ago we discussed why the "worst case" scenario for China's property crisis is gradually emerging; to this we can now add that China's worst case energy crisis scenario is also about to be unleashed as cold weather swept into much of the country and power plants scrambled to stock up on coal, sending prices of the fuel to record highs.

    Electricity demand to heat homes and offices is expected to soar this week as strong cold winds move down from northern China, according to Reuters with forecasters predicting average temperatures in some central and eastern regions could fall by as much as 16 degrees Celsius in the next 2-3 days.

    Shortages of coal, high fuel prices and booming post-pandemic industrial demand have sparked widespread power shortages in the world's second-largest economy. Rationing has already been in place in at least 17 of mainland China's more than 30 regions since September, forcing some factories to suspend production and further disrupting already broken supply chains.

    On Friday, the most-active January Zhengzhou thermal coal futures closed at a record high of 2,226 per tonne early. The contract has risen almost 200% year to date.

    China's three northeastern provinces of Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning - also among the worst hit by the power shortages last month - as well as several regions in northern China including Inner Mongolia and Gansu have started winter heating, which is mainly fuelled by coal, to cope with the colder-than-normal weather.

    Meanwhile, even though Beijing has taken a slew of measures to contain coal price rises including raising domestic coal output and cutting power to power-hungry industries and some factories during periods of peak demand, so far all measures have failed with coal surging by 40% in just the past three days. Beijing has also repeatedly assured users that energy supplies will be secured for the winter heating season, and went so far as to order energy firms to "secure supplies at all costs." Well, the energy firms heard it, because on that day, thermal coal closed at 1,436 yuan. Two weeks later it is some 800 yuan higher.

    Unfortunately for Beijing, the power shortages are expected to continue into early next year, with analysts and traders forecasting a 12% drop in industrial power consumption in the fourth quarter as coal supplies fall short and local governments give priority to residential users.

    Earlier this week, we reported that China undertook its boldest step in a decades-long power sector reform when it allowed coal-fired power prices to fluctuate by up to 20% from base levels from Oct. 15, enabling power plants to pass on more of the high costs of generation to commercial and industrial end-users. read more

    Steel, aluminium, cement and chemical producers are expected to face higher and more volatile power costs under the new policy, pressuring profit margins.

    Meanwhile, the latest Chinese "data" on Thursday showed factory-gate inflation in September hit a record high; but since thermal coal is the one commodity that correlates the closest to PPI, absent a sharp drop in coal prices in the next few weeks, expect the next PPI print to be far higher. Meanwhile as the power crisis leads to further shutdowns in domestic production, some banks - such as Nomura - have gone so far to predict that China's GDP is set to shrink in coming quarters.

    China, which laughably aims to be "carbon neutral" by 2060 even as its president announced he will skip the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, has been "trying" to reduce its reliance on polluting coal power in favor of cleaner wind, solar and hydro. But coal remains the source for some 70% of China's electricity needs.

    Of course, China is not the only nation struggling with power supplies, which has led to fuel shortages and blackouts in many European countries. and threatens to send US heating bills up as much as 50% this winter. he crisis has highlighted the difficulty in cutting the global economy's dependency on fossil fuels as world leaders seek to revive efforts to tackle climate change at talks next month in Glasgow.

    China will strive to achieve carbon peaks by 2030, Vice Premier Han Zheng said in a video message at the Russian Energy Week International Forum, according to state-run news agency Xinhua late on Thursday. He also said that China and Russia are important forces leading the energy transition and they should cooperate and ensure smooth progress of major oil and gas pipeline and nuclear power projects.

    Translation: Russia better save that nat gas and not ship it to Europe as China will soon be needed even BCF Russia an provide. As for China

     

    Tyler Durden Fri, 10/15/2021 - 22:50

    Read More

    Continue Reading

    Trending