US COVID cases drop another 30% as Africa surge continues

With the introduction of three effective COVID-19 vaccines, daily COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rapidly decline across the country, and new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that vaccines have been particularly beneficial for older Americans.

During a White House briefing today, the last briefing run by COVID-19 pandemic response coordinator Andy Slavitt, who announced he was stepping down from his position today, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said for the second week in a row, daily case averages dropped by 30%, with a 7-day average of 13,277 cases

Most important, Walensky said, cases are down 94% from their pandemic peak in January. This was the first time the 7-day average was less than 15,000 since Mar 27 of last year.

Both Walensky and Anthony Fauci, MD, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, thanked Slavitt for his service. Slavitt was serving a special 130-day appointment with the Biden administration, and his departure was expected.

Slavitt said he left with great pride in the Biden administration's handling of the pandemic and that America was now in "a situation where if we continue to do what's in front of us, now the worst is behind us."

More evidence vaccines protect the elderly

The United States reported 15,496 new COVID-19 cases yesterday and 324 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the country has confirmed 33,385,561 COVID-19 cases, including 598,276 deaths.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 371,520,735 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered in the United States, and 302,851,917 have been administered, with 139,748,661 Americans fully vaccinated.

As of May 1, 69% of American adults over age 65 were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and in turn have seen a large decrease in infections, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths, according to the CDC.

Compared with case incidence at the beginning of December, cases dropped by 79% by the end of April for adults over age 65. Compared with hospital admissions during the pre-vaccination period of Nov 29 to Dec 12, 2020, adult COVID-19 hospital admissions rates were 63% lower among all adults, with the biggest change (78%) among adults aged older than 65 years, during the last 2 weeks of April, the CDC said.

Though older Americans still represent the highest proportion of COVID-19–related deaths, deaths among those 65 and older decreased from 84.2% of all deaths during the pre-vaccination period of November and December 2020 to 68.0% during the end of April.

The results should encourage all eligible Americans to get vaccinated, the authors said.

"Despite sufficient vaccine supply and expanding eligibility, administration of COVID-19 vaccines has steadily declined in adults since mid-April 2021. These results suggest that tailored efforts by state and local jurisdictions to rapidly increase vaccine coverage among all eligible age groups could contribute to further reductions in COVID-19 cases and severe outcomes," the authors wrote.

International COVID developments

While America's outbreak is on the decline, Africa's COVID-19 cases have now risen for the fourth week in a row, up 19% from the previous week, according to a weekly outbreaks and health emergencies report from the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa regional office.

Most cases, however, are concentrated in a few countries experiencing sharp or steady rises, including South Africa, Uganda, Eritrea, Namibia, and Zambia.

The report said Africa only has enough COVID-19 vaccine for 1% of its population, and WHO officials have warned that the region is falling behind the rest of the world in receiving vaccine supplies.

In a related development, the Mastercard Foundation today announced that it will donate $1.3 billion over the next 3 years to a partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control to help the region respond to and recover from the pandemic. Part of the initiative will acquire vaccines for at least 50 million people, building on the efforts of COVAX, the program designed to ensure equitable access to COVID vaccine for low- and middle-income countries.

In other global headlines:

  • British officials are considering delaying the country's full reopening, originally slated for Jun 21, by up to 2 weeks to allow more people over age 50 to be fully vaccinated, as the country grapples with further spread of the more transmissible Delta (B1617.2) SARS-CoV-2 variant, according to the London Times.

  • Australia's Victoria state reported two more local COVID-19 cases in the Melbourne area yesterday, down from 11 the day before, and officials have signaled that the 2-week circuit-breaker lockdown will likely ease on Jun 10 as planned, according to Reuters.

  • Another high-profile Japanese virologist has raised concerns about risk of further COVID-19 spread posed by the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Hitoshi Oshitani, MD, PhD, MPH, a government advisor with Tohoku University, told the London Times that the event could spread the virus to countries that have little spread and few variant cases. In a related development, as the event draws closer and cases decline in Japan, the country's public is becoming more optimistic about the games, with a new poll suggesting that 50% think the event should proceed, up from 39% a month ago, according to the Washington Post.

  • The latest global total is 173,757,407, with 3,740,257 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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