Will there be another Covid wave? What US health officials are watching for

Will there be another Covid wave? What US health officials are watching for
Will there be another Covid spike in 2022?

Covid cases have been declining in the US but developments around the globe worry some officials and observers.

Hong Kong has become a hot spot with a surge in cases after having been able to largely keep the virus at bay for two years. As in the US, scepticism towards vaccines is a large problem.

As the recent outbreak of infections got underway, almost 40 per cent of residents in Hong Kong were unvaccinated. More than half of the vulnerable group of people over the age of 70 hadn’t been immunised, The New York Times reported.

Many residents don’t trust the government, which is being increasingly repressed by China. Others are sceptical of medicines coming from the West or are victims of misinformation.

“I worry that the side effects of vaccination will kill me,” 80-year-old Lam Suk-haa told the paper last month. “I won’t get vaccinated as long as I have a choice.”

What finally broke through Hong Kong’s “zero-Covid” strategy was the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Another issue is the vaccine that many in Hong Kong have received – Sinovac – a vaccine made by China which studies have shown to be less effective than US and European vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca. The Pfizer vaccine is available for use in Hong Kong, but many residents harbour inaccurate beliefs concerning supposedly worrying side effects.

The death rate in Hong Kong has spiked, now reaching 25 deaths per 100,000 residents, which is currently the highest rate in the world.

John Burn-Murdoch wrote in the Financial Times on Monday that he’s “not sure people appreciate quite how bad the Covid situation is in Hong Kong, nor what might be around the corner”.

“What’s driving this? Vaccines. Or more specifically: the elderly vaccination rate,” he added.

China could also be edging closer to the precipice as many elderly residents on the mainland remain unvaccinated and Covid deaths could spike. Theatres and restaurants were suddenly shut down in Shanghai as an outbreak struck the city.

New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and other Pacific countries are also experiencing rising cases. But because of higher vaccination rates, their deaths rates are lower than that of Hong Kong.

Throughout the pandemic, the US has often been able to see its near future in Europe, with cases in the UK, Germany, Italy, and other south European countries now on the rise. The top culprit appears to be the new variant BA.2 which seems to be even more than transmissible than Omicron.

BA.2 has started to spread in the US, with the CDC estimating that it made up for 12 per cent of new cases last week.

Since the middle of January, new daily cases has dropped by more than 95 per cent. It’s currently at its lowest level since last summer – ahead of the surge of cases due to the Delta variant.

The level of Covid found in wastewater has been a leading indicator of the number of new cases. In around a third of US cities that track that kind of data, the levels of Covid in the wastewater are on the rise.

Former Biden White House Covid advisor Andy Slavitt wrote on Monday that 45 per cent of Americans having already had Omicron “should be highly protective” against BA.2.

Associate Professor at USF College of Public Health, Dr Jill Roberts, told WFTS that “right now, my message would be that Covid is not gone”.

But she added that “we can really assess our risks really differently this year with those vaccines available”.

“The good news for this year is the Omicron wave has really crashed out. The bad news is it’s not gone and it still actually has some significant transmission in our area,” Dr Roberts said concerning Tampa Bay, Florida, where spring breakers are getting ready to flock to the beaches.

“I would worry about both and seeing a spike in both” the flu and Covid-19 “after spring break and especially because crowds facilitate the spread … every year there’s a blip after spring break,” she added.

“What I would be more concerned about is if we see a blip of a variant. So the Omicron part two is around. Strains have been detected in the US and so I think that’s one of the major things that I’ll be watching for, just to see if that variant is picking up speed,” she said.

“Many people do have that pandemic fatigue but I would say that you have the luxury of having pandemic fatigue, whereas a lot of other people do not. So for people who are immunocompromised, kids under the age of five, the pandemic is still ongoing and it’s still something they have to be aware of,” Dr Roberts added.