COVID-19 cases climbing in US, Europe, Canada

Mask reflection
Mask reflection

John Perivolaris / Flickr cc

After a steady decline from summer peaks through the beginning of September, new COVID-19 cases appear to be on the rise again in the United States.

According to data from the New York Times, there have been 41,822 new cases per day in the country over the past week, a 14% increase from the previous 2 weeks. Among the states seeing the largest increases in new cases over the past 14 days are Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

And the United States is far from the only country seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases as the fall begins. In a televised speech yesterday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the nation is at a "crossroads," with British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec all entering a second wave of the pandemic, the CBC reports. Trudeau urged Canadians to follow public health guidelines.

"I know this isn't the news that any of us wanted to hear. And we can't change today's numbers or even tomorrow's … but what we can change is where we are in October, and into the winter," he said.

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections are surging throughout Europe, where health officials are warning the coming months could look similar to this past spring.

Globally, there are now 32,048,333 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 979,454 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard. The United States accounts for 6,962,333 of those cases, with 202,467 deaths.

Sustained increases across Europe

The rise in cases in Italy, which was one of the hardest-hit European countries in the spring, and Germany follow the pattern of increasing coronavirus transmission that officials have observed throughout the continent in recent weeks.

As a new report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) highlights, data from Sep 13 show sustained increases (greater than 10%) in the 14-day COVID-19 case notification in 13 countries: the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

"The observed increased transmission levels indicate that the non-pharmaceutical interventions in place have not achieved the intended effect, either because adherence to the measures is not optimal or because the measures are not sufficient to reduce or control exposure," the ECDC wrote in its Rapid Risk Assessment.

The ECDC said in several countries the upsurge is linked to increased testing and "intense transmission" among 15- to 49-year-olds, while in other countries the increase has been among older people and has been accompanied by an increase in hospitalizations and severe cases.

The United Kingdom reported 6,634 new COVID-19 cases today, up from 6,178 on Wednesday, according to the BBC, while Reuters reports that the number of new infections in the Netherlands hit a new daily record of 2,544, and Spain reported more than 10,600 new cases. France also set a daily record, with 16,096 new cases, and the  number of French COVID-19 patients in intensive care climbed to more than 1,000 for the first time since Jun 8.

"We are at a decisive moment," European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said on Twitter. "And everyone has to act decisively too. It might be out last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring."

Prior to this week, as CNBC reports, Germany and Italy had not been seeing similar increases. But new data reported in the past few days by Italian and German health officials show new cases rapidly rising. In Italy, the Campania, Lazio, and Tuscany regions have seen sharp upticks. In Germany, Munich and Hamburg are among the hot spots for new infections.

Vaccine politics

In the United States, the increasingly public battle between the White House and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the potential approval or emergency authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine continues to make headlines.

Yesterday at a press conference, President Donald Trump said that the White House "may or may not" approve of new, stricter guidance for a COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorization (EUA) being considered by the FDA. Under that guidance, which the Washington Post reports is part of an effort to shore up public confidence in the agency, the FDA would ask vaccine manufacturers seeking an EUA for a COVID-19 vaccine to follow participants in phase 3 clinical trials for at least 2 months after receiving a second dose of vaccine.

That timeline would make it unlikely that any vaccine could be approved before the US presidential election on Nov 3. President Trump, who has repeatedly suggested that vaccine could be available by that date, told reporters yesterday that the guidance "sounds like a political move," echoing previous comments he's made about political opposition to him within the agency.

Those comments came the same day the FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, told Congress that the COVID-19 vaccine approval process would be guided by science.

Concern about the vaccine approval process prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce today that New York state will conduct its own review of any COVID-19 vaccines approved by the federal government.

"Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion, and I wouldn't recommend to New Yorkers, based on the federal government's opinion," Cuomo said at a press conference, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the US phase 3 trial of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from AstraZeneca remains on hold while the FDA continues to investigate a serious adverse event that occurred in a volunteer in the UK phase 3 trial. The study in Britain resumed on Sep 12 after the Medicine Health Regulatory Authority confirmed that it was safe to do so.

AstraZeneca has not released any information about the patient or the adverse event, but Stat News has reported that the patient was a woman who experienced neurologic symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis.

Steady decline observed in Africa

In other US and global developments:

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) yesterday released new data showing sharp declines from March to May in rates for vaccinations and primary and preventive services among children in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. CMS says the 22% drop in vaccinations in children up to age 2, 44% decline in visits for child-screening services, and 69% drop in dental services (all compared with the same time period in 2019) are due to the pandemic.

  • The US economy's recovery from the pandemic appears to be stalling, as new unemployment claims rose to 870,000 for the week ending Sep 21.

  • Africa has seen a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases since Jul 20, according to a news release from the World Health Organization's (WHO's) African regional office. Some of the most affected countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal, have seen infections drop every week over the past 2 months, and deaths have remained low in the region. The WHO says low population density and mobility, a hot and humid climate, and a younger population are contributing to the pattern seen in Africa.

This week's top reads