COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

 It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations for SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines, SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic agents and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make any projections since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

SARS-CoV-2 infections have been accelerating at a rapid rate in the United States and many other countries including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. This is caused by the Omicron variant of concern. Omicron is at least four times as infectious as the already highly infectious Delta variants. UK scientists have found that the household secondary attack rate for Omicron is 21.6%, compared to 10.7% with Delta, meaning people infected with Omicron are twice as likely to infect household members as they would be if infected with Delta. They also estimate a “three- to eight-fold increased risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant.”

I would expect the Omicron variant to continue to mutate just like Delta. There are now already three Omicron variants, BA.1, BA,2. and BA.3. We expect to see additional Omicron variants as this isolate spreads rapidly around the USA and the World. As of 12/22/21 the Omicron variant, which was first seen in South Africa on 11/08/21, is now in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. As of 1/14/22 Omicron has been identified on all seven continents and in at least 146 countries

Omicron has mutations which decrease the effectiveness of current vaccines and monoclonal antibodies. The effectiveness of the new Pfizer drug, PAXLOVIDTM, should not be compromised by any of the current mutations in Omicron or Delta variants. Pfizer completed their filing with the FDA on 11/15/21. The FDA approved PAXLOVIDTM on December 22 , 2021.The FDA approved Merck’s drug Molnupiravir on December 23, 2021. On 12/23/21 CVS announced by fax it was selected by the Government to distribute oral PAXLOVIDTM and Molnupiravir. On 12/27/21 another fax from CVS listed which CVS pharmacies in California would have these drugs. Monterey County covers 3,771 square miles with a population of 434,061. Three CVS pharmacies in Monterey, Salinas, and Soledad are the only listed pharmacies in our county. I have only been able to obtain PAXLOVIDTM from the CVS in Salinas which is awaiting another shipment. Fresno County covers 6,011 square miles with a population of 999,101. Four CVS pharmacies in Fresno County are the only listed pharmacies. We obtained PAXLOVIDTM from the Salinas CVS pharmacy and successfully treated two patients in the last four weeks. Last week we treated a third patient from Turlock with PAXLOVIDTM . Two weeks ago we treated our first patient with Molnupiravir due to our inability at that time to obtain PAXLOVIDTM . Molnupiravir was obtained from the Monterey CVS and does not appear to be in short supply in the United States. You can just send your electronic prescription to a participating CVS pharmacy. You probably should call in advance to check on drug availability and their participation.

In the absence of obtaining intravenous Sotrovimab, only oral PAXLOVIDTM and Molnupiravir are available to treat SARS-CoV-2 as an outpatient. For now only masking (N95 rated masks, please!), social distancing and vaccination will have any effect on these variants. Furthermore, we do not believe that a 5-day quarantine or isolation period is sufficient for any COVID-19 infection. The Taiwanese CDC agrees with both our recommendations on quarantine period and masking. In fact, the Taiwanese CDC has recommended N95 masking since the beginning of the pandemic (and made these masks universally available to their population). Taiwan has one of the lowest death rates per million during the course of the pandemic (see graph below). 

In the United States as of 2/25/22, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the first time in twelve 14-day periods. There were 2,568 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In November 2021, SARS-CoV-2 was the third most common cause of death in the United States. 

In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 836,157 infections per day compared to the preceding 14-day period. Our infections per day have decreased for the first time over the last 6 weeks. Unless people get vaccinated, including their third dose of the vaccine, we will see further spread of the Omicron variants and increase in deaths in people who are not vaccinated, have waning immunity, the immunocompromised population and others with risk factors particularly those older than over the age of 64. SARS-CoV-2 is now in the top ten most common causes of death for children. Anyone over the age of 5 years can now get vaccinated in the United States at no cost. This should get done immediately.In Monterey County, only 35% of 5-11 year olds have received the first dose of vaccine.

The new variant, B.1.1.529 (Omicron), was first seen in South Africa on 11/8/21 with multiple new mutations, deletions and an insertion that caused a doubling of new infections every 1.3 days in Gauteng, South Africa. In just 67 days, as of 1/14/22, Omicron has been found on seven continents, in 117 countries and all 50 states in the United States. Unlike Delta variants in South Africa, Omicron was infecting and hospitalizing patients in all age groups but particularly children under five years of age and adults greater than 60 years of age. Increased vaccinations, vaccines against new mutants, drugs against 3C-like protease like PAXLOVIDTM, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are part of the Biden SARS-CoV-2 plan, are all necessary to continue to stop further spread of mutants and reduce infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. 

Omicron Subvariant BA.2 Is Coming

Per CDC data ending in 2/19/22, the Delta variant accounts for 0.0% of new infections in the United States, while Omicron (B.1.1.529/BA.1) accounts for 96.2% and Omicron subvariant BA.2 accounts for 3.8%. It’s worth noting that in the last 30 days, according to GISAID, the United States has only sequenced 1.582% of cases. 

Omicron subvariant BA.2 has been detected in every region of the United States. BA.2 also contains 17 mutations that set it apart from BA.1 (ten of which are also different from those in BA. 3. 

On 2/25/22, the United States had 76,258 new infections with two states not reporting (Iowa and Tennessee). There were also 1,853 deaths with 9 other states not reporting. Florida continues to consistently under-report daily infections and deaths. In the United States the number of hospitalized patients has been decreasing in many areas, and now 8,981 patients are seriously or critically ill; that number was 16,791 two weeks ago. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 7,811 in the last 14 days, while at least 32,111 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients has decreased for the third time in fifteen 14-day periods but a large number of patients are still dying each day (average 2,294/day). Infections, critically ill patients, and deaths should markedly decrease in the next two weeks if Omicron BA.2 causes less severe disease and does not infect large numbers of previously BA.1 infected patients. However, there are reports out of Israel of patients infected with BA.1 being later reinfected with BA.2. 

As of 2/24/22, we have had 972,190 deaths and 80,532,307 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 1,303,679 new infections in the last 14 days. We were adding an average of 651,840 infections every seven days. For the pandemic in the United States we are averaging one death for every 82.8 infections reported or over 12,072 deaths for each one million infections. As of 2/25/22, thirty-six states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 36 states have had greater than 5,000 total deaths. Fifteen states (North Carolina, Indiana, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, New York, Arizona and California) have had greater than 20,000 deaths. Four states (Florida, Texas, New York, and California) have had greater than 65,000 deaths. California and Texas have each had greater than 80,000 deaths. 

On 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. On 11/20/21 in North Dakota, 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota, 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2). As of 2/25//22, in the United States, 24.09% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 15 months, 21.37% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. In the last 2 weeks 0.43% of the country became infected. On 11/20/20, there were 260,331 (cumulative) deaths in the US from SARS-CoV-2. In the last 15 months, there were 712,069 new deaths from SARS-CoV-2. For eleven of those months, vaccines have been available to all adults. During these eleven months, 401,103 people have died of SARS-CoV-2 infections. Most of the hospitalizations and deaths could have been prevented by vaccination, proper masking, and social distancing. 

As of 2/11/22, California was ranked 39th in infection percentage at 22.69%. In California 18.99% of Californians were infected in the last 15 months. As of 2/24/22 forty-three states have had greater than 20% of their population infected. Rhode Island was at 33.55% (ranked #1), Alaska was at 31.55% (ranked #2),North Dakota was at 31.20% (ranked #3), Tennessee was at 29.91% (ranked #4), Utah was at 28.75% (ranked #5) and Florida was at 27.21% (ranked #9) of their population infected. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now have greater than 16% of their population infected. The table below shows that if we rank the US states with the highest death rates per million population within the world rankings, we see that Mississippi, Arizona, Alabama and New Jersey have the eighth highest COVID-19 deaths per million in the world. Massachusetts, Arkansas and New York tied at tenth, Louisiana is at 11th and Rhode Island and Florida tied at 13th. The United States as a whole ranks 18th in the world for deaths per million population (2,907 deaths per million). California ranks 40th in the USA (and 38th in the world). If we look at the death rates per million in South Korea (152), Iceland (177), Japan (181), and Israel (1,084), they suggest that treatment outcomes are somehow different in these four countries. The same phenomenon can be seen in Scandinavia, where the death rate in Sweden is 1,677 per million, compared to 291 per million in Norway and 426 per million in Finland. The United States should have taken a closer look at how countries with low death rates (like South Korea, Iceland, Japan, Finland, and Norway) are preventing COVID-19 infections and treating COVID-19 patients. 

State or Country COVID-19 Deaths per million populationRank in USARanked within World
Mississippi4,035  1st8th tied
New Jersey  3,7174th8th tied
Louisiana3,5725th11th 
New York 3,4828th10th tied
Alabama3,7093rd8th tied
Arizona3,8372nd8th tied
Massachusetts3,39111th10th tied
Rhode Island  3,215  19th13th tied
Arkansas3,4549th10th tied
Florida3,23818th13th tied
California2,15240th38th
USA2,90718th
Peru6,2301st
Bosnia-Herzegovina  4,7463rd
North Macedonia  4,3115th
Hungary4,5284th
Montenegro4,2575th
Bulgaria5,1832nd
Gibraltar2,99914th
Czechia3,5839th
Brazil3,01414th
San Marino3,28912th
Georgia4,0377th
Sweden1,67756th
Israel1,08483rd
Canada95290th
Finland426126th
Norway291139th
Japan181153rd
Iceland177156th
South Korea152161st

FDA-Approved Oral Drug Treatments for SARS-CoV-2

Pfizer has developed PAXLOVID™, an oral reversible inhibitor of C3-like protease of SARS-CoV-2. The drug inhibits this key enzyme that is crucial for virus production. The compound, also called Compound 6 (PF-07321332), is part of the drug combination PAXLOVID™ (PF-07321332; ritonavir), which just successfully completed a Phase 2-3 trial in humans in multiple countries. The preliminary results were announced on 11/5/21 by Pfizer. The results show that 89% of the hospitalizations and deaths were prevented in the drug treatment arm. The drug was administered twice a day for five days. No deaths occurred in the treatment group, and ten deaths occurred in the placebo group. The study was stopped by an independent data safety monitoring board, and the FDA concurred with this decision. Pfizer applied for an Emergency Use Authorization for this drug on 11/15/21. This drug was approved on 12/23/21. We have only been able to obtain PAXLOVID™ for two patients who we successfully treated with this drug obtained from CVS in Salinas (East Alisal Street; phone number 831-424-0026). They were expecting another shipment on 1/28/22. In my opinion, this agent, if more widely available, could markedly alter the course of every coronavirus infection throughout the world. 

Merck has developed the oral drug Molnupiravir, which induces RNA mutagenesis by viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses. According to Kabinger et al, “Viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase uses the active form of Molnupiravir, β-D-N4-hydroxycytidine triphosphate, as a substrate instead of cytidine triphosphate or uridine triphosphate. When the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase uses the resulting RNA as a template, β-D-N4-hydroxycytidine triphosphate directs incorporation of either guanine or adenine, leading to mutated (viral) RNA products. Analysis of RNA-dependent RNA polymerase–RNA complexes that contain mutagenesis products has demonstrated that β-D-N4-hydroxycytidine (the active form of Molnupiravir) can form stable base pairs with either guanine or adenine in RNA-dependent RNA polymerase explaining how the polymerase escapes proofreading and synthesizes mutated RNA” (quotation modified for clarity). The results of the phase 3 trial of Molnupiravir were published in the NEJM article “Molnupiravir for Oral Treatment of Covid-19 in Nonhospitalized Patients” by Angélica Jayk Bernal, M.D. et al. (December 16, 2021 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2116044). In this phase 3 study in the Molnupiravir group, 28 patients were hospitalized and one death occurred. In the placebo group, 53 patients were hospitalized and 9 died. Overall, 47% of hospitalizations and deaths were prevented by Molnupiravir. If you do a post hoc analysis and just look at deaths, Molnupiravir would prevent 89% of deaths. An Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA for Molnupiravir was approved on 12/24/21.The dose of Molnupiravir approved is four 200 mg capsules orally twice a day for five days. Diarrhea is reportedly a side effect in two percent of patients. I treated my first patient with Molnupiravir on 1/28/22. Currently more Molnupiravir is available weekly in the United States than PAXLOVID™ (see chart below; data from PHE.gov). Locally Molnupiravir is still available at CVS in Monterey (Fremont Blvd.; phone number: 831-375-5135) and CVS in Salinas (East Alisal Street; phone number 831-424-0026). 

Total Doses of All Four COVID-19 Drugs Provided to the United States, by Week

DatePaxlovidMolnupiravirSotrovimabBebtelovimabEvusheld
1/24/22-1/30/2299,980399,98052,26074,976
1/31/22-2/6/220052,10474,960
2/7/22-2/13/2299,940399,84052,24848,74549,264
2/14/22-2/20/220052,24948,79549,992
2/21/22-2/27/22148,980349,77652,19449,922

FDA-Approved Intravenous Monoclonal Antibody Treatment for Non-Hospitalized SARS-CoV-2 Patients 

Sotrovimab is a human monoclonal antibody made by Vir Technology and  Glaxo-SmithKline which received a FDA EUA approval on May 26,1921 for intravenous drug treatment for non-hospitalized SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. According to the FDA, “The data supporting this EUA for sotrovimab are based on an interim analysis from a phase 1/2/3 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial in 583 non-hospitalized adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms and a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result. Of these patients, 291 received sotrovimab and 292 received a placebo within five days of onset of COVID-19 symptoms. The primary endpoint was progression of COVID-19 (defined as hospitalization for greater than 24 hours for acute management of any illness or death from any cause) through day 29. Hospitalization or death occurred in 21 (7%) patients who received placebo compared to 3 (1%) patients treated with sotrovimab, an 85% reduction.” Sotrovimab is given intravenously in a single 500 mg dose. Supplies of this drug are also very limited and currently are only available at hospitals. In order to get this drug, we will probably have to go through the same process outlined below for Evusheld.

Bebtelovimab is a new monoclonal antibody treatment for mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kg) with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 viral testing, and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death, and for whom alternative COVID-19 treatment options approved or authorized by FDA are not accessible or clinically appropriate. The authorized dose of Bebtelovimab is 175 mg, given as an intravenous injection over at least 30 seconds. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for this drug on 2/11/22.

FDA Approved Intramuscular Prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 Immunocompromised Patients

Evusheld (from AstraZeneca) contains two human monoclonal antibodies, Tixagevimab (150 mg in 1.5 mL) and Cilgavimab (150 mg in 1.5 mL), in separate vials. According to the manufacturer, “Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab are two recombinant human IgG1κ monoclonal antibodies with amino acid substitutions to extend antibody half-life (YTE), reduce antibody effector function, and minimize the potential risk of antibody-dependent enhancement of disease (TM). Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab can simultaneously bind to non-overlapping regions of the receptor binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Tixagevimab, Cilgavimab, and their combination bind to spike protein with equilibrium dissociation constants of KD = 2.76 pM, 13.0 pM and 13.7 pM, respectively, blocking its interaction with human ACE2, the SARS-CoV-2 receptor, which is required for virus attachment. Tixagevimab, Cilgavimab, and their combination blocked RBD binding to human ACE2 with IC50 values of 0.32 nM (48 ng/mL), 0.53 nM (80 ng/mL), and 0.43 nM (65 ng/mL), respectively.” Each monoclonal antibody is administered intramuscularly to immunocompromised patients in two separate injections every six months. Evusheld availability in California is limited and has been rationed/distributed by our local Public Health Department only to hospitals. Physicians in Monterey County who want to receive a distribution (or redistribution) of Evusheld need to be added to the list of eligible facilities by the State Therapeutics group. The first step is for the Monterey County EMS Agency (phone: 831-755-5713) to make a request to the State Therapeutics group to have the facility added to the system for further verification.  Due to extremely limited availability, evidently the State Therapeutics group is currently only considering additions on a case by case basis.  Physicians who wish to submit their facility for consideration will need to provide the following information to the Monterey County EMS Agency:

  1. Facility/Provider Name for Registration
  2. Provider Type (Hospital, Pharmacy, Etc)
  3. Shipping Address
  4. Contact Name(s)
  5. Contact Email(s)
  6. Contact Phone Number(s)

As for my immunocompromised patients: We provided this information by email to the Monterey County EMS Agency on 1/26/22 and will update you when or if we become an eligible provider and receive our first doses of Evusheld. 

On 2/24/22, the FDA revised its dosing guidance for Evusheld, doubling the dosage of its two components, Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab, from 150 mg each to 300 mg each. They explain, “Based on the most recent information and data available, Evusheld may be less active against certain Omicron subvariants. The dosing regimen was revised because available data indicate that a higher dose of Evusheld may be more likely to prevent infection by the COVID-19 Omicron subvariants BA.1 and BA.1.1 than the originally authorized Evusheld dose.” Patients who have already received their first administration of Evusheld intramuscularly will need to contact their healthcare provider to get a second 150 mg injection of Tixagevimab and Cilgavimab. If you have not received Evusheld yet, the correct dose is 3 mL/300 mg of each monoclonal antibody injected intramuscularly. This large volume necessitates administration of the antibodies in the gluteus, with two separate injections. 

A New Possible Indication for an Older FDA-Approved Antiviral Drug 

Remdesivir was the first FDA-approved Emergency Use Authorization drug for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. In their January 2021 paper in Nature Communications, Kokic et al explained the mechanism of Remdesivir’s action on SARS-CoV-2: “The active form of remdesivir acts as a nucleoside analog and inhibits the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) of coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2. Remdesivir is incorporated by the RdRp into the growing RNA product and allows for addition of three more nucleotides before RNA synthesis stalls. Addition of the fourth nucleotide following Remdesivir incorporation into the RNA product is impaired by a barrier to further RNA translocation. This translocation barrier causes retention of the RNA 3ʹ-nucleotide in the substrate-binding site of the RdRp and interferes with entry of the next nucleoside triphosphate, thereby stalling RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. In the structure of the Remdesivir-stalled state, the 3ʹ-nucleotide of the RNA product is matched and located with the template base in the active center, and this may impair proofreading by the viral 3ʹ-exonuclease.” 

A recent study by Gottlieb et al of intravenous Remdesivir to prevent disease progression, whose design was similar to the study designs used for PAXLOVID™ and Molnupiravir, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 1/27/22. The study resulted in an 87% lower risk of hospitalization or death than in the placebo group with a similar adverse events occurrence (42.3% and 46.3% respectively). The FDA may allow approval of outpatient intravenous Remdesivir over three days (200 mg IV on day one followed by 100 mg IV daily on days two and three) in high risk non-hospitalized SARS-CoV-2 infected patients.

With the exception of Evusheld, all of the therapies listed above can be used in Omicron-infected patients. Other previously approved monoclonal antibodies will not work for Omicron.

The Threat of SARS-CoV-2 Variants

In response to the need for “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels,” at the end of May, the World Health Organization assigned a letter from the Greek alphabet to each SARS-CoV-2 variant. GISAID, Nextstrain, and Pango will continue to use the previously established nomenclature. For our purposes, we’ll be referring to each variant by both its Greek alphabet letter and the Pango nomenclature. 

The WHO has sorted variants into two categories: Variants of Concern (VOC) and Variants of Interest (VOI). The criteria for Variants of Concern are as follows:

  • Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or 
  • Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or 
  • Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.  

The WHO categorizes the following five variants as Variants of Concern (VOC):

Source: World Health Organization

The criteria for Variants of Interest (VOI) are as follows:

  • has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries; OR  
  • is otherwise assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group. 

The WHO categorizes the following six variants as Variants of Interest (VOI):

According to the UK Health Security Agency Technical Briefing from 2/25/22, “A putative Delta and Omicron recombinant has been identified in the UK, with likely parental lineages AY.4.2.2 and BA.1.1 and a breakpoint in non-structural protein 3 (nsp3). The presence of 34 genomes sampled between 7 January 2022 and 14 February 2022 suggest that this recombinant is able to transmit.” We will need to monitor for this Delta-Omicron recombinant variant in the United States as well. 

Omicron cases sequenced as of 2/27/22:

Map of Omicron sequenced transmissions:

Delta cases sequenced as of 2/27/22: 

Map of Delta sequenced transmissions:

B.1.640 cases sequenced as of 2/27/22:

Watching World Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC.

LocationTotal Infections as of 2/25/22New Infections on 2/25//22Total DeathsNew Deaths on 2/25/22% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World433,301,387(14,603,060 new infections in 14 days).1,614,4345,956,495(136,430 new deaths in last 14 days)8,5035.55%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)C.1.2 (South Africa 2% of isolates in July 2021)R1 (Japan)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 + BA.2 + BA.3 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)B.1.640.2 (Cameroon/France)NoNo
USA80,532,307*
(ranked #1) 1,303.679 new infections in the last 14 days.
*JHU reported 77,683,119 infections
76,258
(ranked #6)
972,200**
(ranked #1)68,003 new deaths in the last 14 days.
** JHU reported 918,924 deaths. 
1,85324.09%
(0.43% increase in 14 days). 
B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)R1(Japan)         Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 + BA.2 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
Brazil28,679242(ranked #3)  1,378,727 infections. 89,247 (ranked #4)648,160(ranked #2)67413.33%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia) Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
India42,904,744(ranked #2); increased by 318,116 infections in 2 weeks.10,399513,512(ranked #3)2543.05%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOI 32421Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC) Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
United Kingdom18,804,765(ranked #5; was #6 twenty-four weeks ago; increased by 684,775infections in 2 weeks.31,933161,224 (ranked #7 in world)12027.46%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)C.1.2 (South Africa)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
California, USA8,957,208(ranked #11 in the world;  165,891 new infections).13,48185,127 (ranked #20 in world)22722.69%(0.45% increase in 14 days)B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru) Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia) Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
Mexico5,473,481(ranked #17) 247,200 new infections in 14 days).18,252317,303(ranked #5)3624.17%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
South Africa3,669,671(ranked #20; 31,998 new infections in 14 days).2,11199,145 (ranked #18)1376.06%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)       C.1.2 (South Africa, July 2021)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
Canada3,275,746(ranked #27, was 26th eight weeks ago; 94,919 new infections in 14 days).6,05036,448(ranked #26)718.55% .B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
Poland5,637,646(ranked #15; 288,758 new infections in 14 days). 16,724111,056(ranked #15)19814.92%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 + (South Africa November 2021),Omicron/B.1.1.529 +BA.3 NoNo
Turkey13,913,625(ranked #8, 1,165,284 new infections in 14 days).71,73693,805 (ranked #19)26616.21% (1.36% of the country was infected in the last 14 days.)B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
Russia16,052,028;(ranked #6), 2,320,234 new infections in 14 days; a new pandemic record for 14 days).123,460349,365(ranked #4 in world)78710.99%; 1,54% of the country was infected in the last 14 days.B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)R1 (Japan) B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
Argentina8,887,973(ranked #11; 1,955,001 new infections in 14 days, a new pandemic record for 14 days).139,853125,958(ranked #13 in world)8619.37% (4.25 % increase in two weeks, a new pandemic record for 14 days).B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gama/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
Colombia6,058,715(ranked #13, 50,724 new infections in 14 days).2,159136,764 (ranked #10 in world)18111.70%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
Peru3,424,894(ranked #22, 81,181 new infections in 14 days). 13,693207,965(ranked #6)22810.15%, a 2.96% increase in 14 days; a new pandemic record for 14 days.B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)NoNo
Indonesia5,504,418(ranked #16; 796, 375 new infections in 14 days)46,643147,844 (ranked #9)2581.97%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)
NoNo
Iran7,023,904 262,099 new infections in last 14 days(ranked 12th; was 12th  twenty-four weeks ago)11,972136,166 (ranked #12)2148.18%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)


NoNo
Spain10,977,524(ranked 10th;   373,324 new infections in 14 days).27,52799,410 (ranked #17)24823.46% B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Mu/B.1.621 (Colombia)Omicron/B.1.1.529 + BA.1 (South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)NoNo
France22,593,109(ranked #4; 1,089,450 new infections).58,138137,958 (ranked #11)188 34.48%, a 1.66% increase in 14 days.Delta/B.1.617.2 (India) Omicron/B.1.1.529 South Africa November 2021)B.1.640.1 (Congo/France)B.1.640.2 (Cameroon/France)NoNo

What Our Team Is Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations for SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make any projections since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the eleventh time in a 14-day period. There were 30 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 947 infections per day.  Our infections per day are still high, probably secondary to SARS-CoV-2 mutant Delta/B.1.617.2. I would predict that the opening of schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, indoor dining and travel all will contribute to further spread of SARS-CoV-2 mutants and rising numbers  in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Increased traveling as well as summer vacations, and the July 4 holiday will all cause further increases. Vaccinations, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden SARS-CoV-2 plan (day 188 of plan) will be necessary to stop spread of mutants and cause  further reductions in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the future. On 7/02/21, the United States had 18,399 new infections. There were also 322 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is decreasing, but 3,866 patients are still seriously or critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 294 in the last 14 days, while 3,785 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients is decreasing for the sixth 14-day period, but a large number of patients are still dying each day (average 270/day). 

As of 7/02/21, we have had 621,161 deaths and 34,580,198 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 188,327 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding an average of 94,163 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in 10,000 to 20,000 deaths. On 7/02/21, thirty-two states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 33 states have had greater than 5,000 total deaths. Ten states (Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 20,000 deaths. Four states (Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 35,000 deaths. In the world, 42 other countries have greater than 500,000 infections and 60 other countries have greater than 5,000 deaths.

On 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 7/02/21, in the United States, 10.38% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 9 months, 7% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

As of 7/02/21, California was ranked 38th in infection percentage at 9.66%. In North Dakota 14.53% of the population was infected (ranked #1), while Rhode Island was at 14.40% (ranked #2) and South Dakota was at 14.08% of the population infected (ranked #3). Thirty-three states have greater than 10% of their population infected and 42 states have greater than 9% of their population infected. Only one state has less than 3% of their population infected: Hawaii (2.67%).

The Threat of SARS-CoV-2 Variants

In a response for the need for “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels,” at the end of May, the World Health Organization assigned a letter from the Greek alphabet to each SARS-CoV-2 variant. GISAID, Nextstrain, and Pango will continue to use the previously established nomenclature. For our purposes, we’ll be referring to each variant by both its Greek alphabet letter and the Pango nomenclature. 

The WHO has sorted variants into two categories: Variants of Concern (VOC) and Variants of Interest (VOI). The criteria for Variants of Concern are as follows:

  • Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or 
  • Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or 
  • Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.  

The WHO categorizes the following four variants as Variants of Concern (VOC):

The criteria for Variants of Interest (VOI) are as follows:

  • has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries; OR  
  • is otherwise assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group. 

The WHO categorizes the following six variants as Variants of Interest (VOI):

The two variants of concern that have garnered most of our attention recently are Alpha (B.1.1.7) and Delta (B.1.617.2). Alpha, first detected in the United Kingdom in September of 2020, has been detected in almost every country and all 50 states in the U.S. Up until this week, Alpha was the dominant variant in the United States, accounting for 60-70% of cases in May and early June.  

Alpha is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates. There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. A study published March 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the risk of death increased by 64% in patients infected with Alpha compared to all other isolates (known at the time). 

While Alpha continues to pose a threat, the increased prominence of the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), first identified in India, is a concern for several reasons. 

First, there is some evidence to suggest that Delta is more transmissible than other variants, including Alpha. This may be due to a mutation, P681R, near the furin cleavage site, and/or due to a deletion in the N-terminal domain (NTD) of the spike protein. In Australia, public health officials have described a handful of cases where transmission of the Delta variant occurred after “fleeting encounters”— five to ten seconds of close contact between strangers in a public place like a gym or a restaurant. 

Second, Delta leads to more severe infections. According to a recent study in Scotland, “Risk of COVID-19 hospital admission was approximately doubled in those with the Delta VOC when compared to the Alpha VOC.” 

Lastly, there is evidence of reduced vaccine effectiveness with Delta. The variant appears to be particularly evasive in people who have had only one dose of vaccine. A Scottish study estimated the vaccine effect against Delta after one dose to be 30% for the Pfizer vaccine and 18% for the AstraZeneca vaccine. After two doses, it was 79% for Pfizer and 60% for AstraZeneca. 

Considering these factors, it is not surprising that Delta is on track to overtake Alpha (B.1.1.7) as the dominant variant worldwide. In the past month, it accounted for 91% of isolations in India, 97% of isolations in the United Kingdom, 96% in Singapore, 90% in Russia, 99% in Israel, and 73% in Australia. In the United States, Delta is now the dominant variant; as of July 6, it accounted for 41.8% of isolations in the past four weeks, compared to 12.9% two weeks ago and 3.7% four weeks ago. This suggests the proportion of Delta cases is nearly doubling every week. 

Source: GISAID

To predict the potential impact of Delta in the U.S., one need only look across the pond. COVID-19 cases in Scotland (where 51% of the population is fully vaccinated) reached a record high last week, overwhelming hospitals and causing some to cancel elective surgeries and most outpatient care. In England, average daily COVID-19 hospital admissions have increased by 52% in the last week. ONS data also reveal a shift in the proportion of young people being hospitalized for COVID-19, with the number of hospitalized 15-24 year-olds increasing steadily since May. Meanwhile, the UK plans to end social distancing and mask mandates on July 19. (My daughter says this is where I should insert a facepalm emoji.)

In Israel, where 56% of the population have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the Delta variant accounts for approximately 99% of cases over the past month. Israel’s health ministry now reports that the Pfizer vaccine is only 64% effective in preventing infection, compared to data from May (before Delta became dominant in Israel) that suggested the vaccine was 94% effective. Israel dropped its mask mandate on June 18, with exceptions for air travel and long-term healthcare facilities, but reinstated the mandate on June 28 after two school outbreaks

As of July 3, the CDC estimates that the Delta variant makes up 51% of US cases. The NY Times reports that nationwide, compared to the previous 14 days, COVID-19 cases are up 14%. One state getting hit particularly hard by Delta is Missouri, where Delta accounts for 73% of COVID-19 cases. As of July 5, new COVID-19 cases in Missouri were up 45% compared to the previous 14 days, hospitalizations were up 24%, and deaths were up 68%. Some Missouri hospitals have run out of ventilators. The NY Times reports that as of July 5, only 39% of Missouri residents have been fully vaccinated. In the 12-17 age group only 23% have been vaccinated. Missouri never implemented a state-wide mask mandate, and most local mask mandates were lifted at the end of May, along with distancing and capacity restrictions for businesses. All state workers in Missouri were directed to return to in-person work by May 17.  

Keeping in mind the potential of variants to evade vaccines, I believe it’s important that we pay attention to instances of vaccine failure. Prior to April 30, 2021, the CDC reported all breakthrough infections. From January 1, 2021 to April 30, 2021, there were 10,262 breakthrough infections, 27% of which were asymptomatic and 995 of which were hospitalized. Of the hospitalized patients, 160 (16%) died. 

Between May 1 and June 28, there were 4,686 breakthrough cases reported to the CDC that resulted in hospitalization or death. (The CDC no longer tracks breakthrough cases that do not result in hospitalization or death.) As of June 28, the CDC reports that 656 fully-vaccinated people have died of COVID-19. This means that 496 of those deaths occurred between May 1 and June 28. Whereas the period from January 1 to April 30 had an average of 40 COVID deaths per month in fully-vaccinated people, the period from May 1 to June 28 had an average of 248 deaths per month. This constitutes a 6-fold increase. We can’t say with certainty whether this increase in deaths is related to the rise in prevalence of the Delta variant, but there is certainly a correlation. Delta accounted for less than 1% of cases at the end of April, about 3% at the end of May, and an estimated 51% in the last two weeks of June. 

Indeed, reports of fully-vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant may become more common. Author John Pavlovitz recently described his family’s experience. Pavlovitz, his wife, and their 16 year-old son were all fully vaccinated, while their 11 year-old daughter was not yet eligible. Their daughter developed COVID-19 symptoms and tested positive while the family was traveling, and it presumably spread to the other three family members when they returned home to quarantine together. (However, there’s really no way of knowing which family member was the index case. For all we know, one of the vaccinated family members could have been infected asymptomatically and passed the virus to the daughter.) Pavlovitz and his wife both developed COVID-19 symptoms, and their son had an asymptomatic infection. Pavlovitz admits that they should have been more careful to prevent household transmission. They apparently did not wear masks in the house, even after they learned their daughter was infected. They thought that since they’d been vaccinated, they didn’t have to worry about being infected. 

The experience of the Pavlovitz family suggests that it is prudent for vaccinated people to follow the World Health Organization’s guidance on masking: everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should continue to wear a mask when gathering with folks from other households indoors, when in close contact with people who are unvaccinated, and when in close contact with people who may be infected. Some U.S. local public health agencies, like Los Angeles County, agree. 

Variants of (Slightly Less) Concern

At 2,284 cases, the United States has the second highest number of isolations of the Beta variant (B.1.351, first identified in South Africa), and 6 of these were in the last four weeks. The Beta variant now accounts for only 0.1% of isolations in the U.S., down from 0.3% two weeks ago. 

The United States still has the most isolations of the Gamma variant (P.1) in the world, with 18,391 overall and 527 in the past four weeks. Gamma accounted for 9.2% of isolations in the past month, down from 12.1% two weeks ago. 

The WHO has also recently labeled the Lambda variant (C.37), which was first identified in Peru in August of 2020, as a variant of interest. The United States has the second largest number of isolations of Lambda, after Chile, with 635 total and 17 in the past four weeks. Lambda causes over 80% of infections in Peru which experienced a surge in new cases this spring and, as of July 6, has had 2,069,051 infections and 193,588 deaths. Peru averaged 2,426 new cases per day over the last week. Strangely, a number of South American countries (Peru, Argentina, Colombia) have stopped reporting new isolations of Lambda to GISAID. 

COVID-19 in California

The following data were reported by the California Department of Public Health:

DateTotal CasesNew CasesTotal DeathsNew DeathsHospitalizedIn ICUFully Vaccinated
6/4/213,687,7361,04762,179871,06226017,662,712
6/5/213,688,8931,15762,242631,04224317,813,305
6/6/213,689,9941,10162,4702281,03522117,947,342
6/7/213,690,86887462,47331,01121918,011,744
6/8/213,691,66079262,47961,01522818,100,412
6/9/213,692,50684662,499201,03023118,240,912
6/10/213,693,36285662,538391,00123418,431,265
6/11/213,694,4981,13662,5935598223318,542,484
6/12/213,695,5301,03262,508-8595524018,637,504
6/13/213,696,47294262,512491524118,694,365
6/14/213,697,29982762,505-793923918,731,215
6/15/213,697,92762862,5151097725118,875,034
6/16/213,698,62669962,5341998124218,970,053
6/17/213,699,45582962,5653195623219,074,396
6/18/213,700,7501,29562,6225795123319,164,548
6/19/213,702,2371,48762,661391,27119,164,548
6/20/213,702,88264562,689281,24919,164,548
6/21/213,704,0051,12362,693492923819,343,396
6/22/213,704,64063562,701894924319,398,536
6/23/213,705,42778762,7414097828719,454,555
6/24/213,706,8461,41962,8228195527419,541,124
6/25/213,708,8612,01562,8906895927419,621,174
6/26/213,711,9283,06762,9596919,621,174
6/27/213,712,79586762,9903119,621,174
6/28/213,714,0511,25662,994498029019,880,275
6/29/213,714,81376262,99951,05028819,941,886
6/30/213,710,4542,01363,023241,08930720,014,043
7/1/213,712,1521,69863,096731,09030020,073,302
7/2/213,713,9441,79263,141451,07129520,073,302
7/3/213,715,3771,433*63,165241,07129520,073,302
7/4/213,716,8101,43363,189241,07129520,073,302
7/5/213,718,2431,43363,213241,07129520,073,302
7/6/213,719,6741,43363,238241,15329820,240,207
7/7/213,721,0061,33263,259211,22829920,296,653

*Data for 7/3/21-7/6/21 were reported in bulk on 7/6/21. We’ve divided the new cases evenly among the four days. 

California dropped its mask mandate and most public space capacity limits on June 15. Over the past two weeks, daily new cases in California have hovered between 635 and 3,067. The two-week high for daily new cases occurred on June 26. More than 1,200 Californians are still hospitalized with COVID-19, with nearly 300 of those in the ICU. Since the beginning of July, 236 Californians have died of COVID-19. 

Age of Confirmed COVID-19 Cases

Date0-17 yrs Total0-17 New Cases18-49 yrs Total18-49 New Cases50-64 yrs Total50-64 New Cases65+ yrs Total65+ New CasesUnknown TotalUnknown New Cases
6/4/21480,5561702,114,286621700,579150390,0211112,294-5
6/5/21480,7431872,114,961675700,764185390,1351142,290-4
6/6/21480,9762332,115,563602700,952188390,210752,2933
6/7/21481,1501742,116,061498701,074122390,290802,2930
6/8/21481,2861362,116,510449701,212138390,359692,2930
6/9/21481,4331472,116,998488701,346134390,436772,2930
6/10/21481,5761432,117,480482701,491145390,522862,2930
6/11/21481,7721962,118,129649701,671180390,6371152,289-4
6/12/21481,9651932,118,723594701,826155390,722852,2945
6/13/21482,1261612,119,276553701,972146390,812902,286-8
6/14/21482,2911652,119,756480702,101129390,866542,285-1
6/15/21482,4061152,120,111355702,212111390,912462,2861
6/16/21482,5241182,120,523412702,312100390,983712,284-2
6/17/21482,6631392,121,032509702,429117391,045622,2862
6/18/21482,8752122,121,782750702,635206391,1701252,2882
6/21/21483,4305552,123,7291,947703,148391,4072,291
6/22/21483,5631332,124,094365703,24597391,455482,283-8
6/23/21483,6941312,124,566472703,375130391,507522,2852
6/24/21483,8751812,125,416850703,600225391,6521452,30318
6/25/21484,1112362,126,6051,189703,957357391,8702182,31815
6/28/21484,9007892,129,6313,026704,847890392,3384682,35537
6/29/21485,0751752,130,090459704,93891392,372342,338-17
7/1/21484,86802,128,8900704,2430391,84702,304-34
7/2/21485,1482802,130,0491,159704,468225391,9771302,302-2
7/3/21485,4042562,130,959911704,658189392,053762,3020
7/4/21485,6602562,131,870911704,847189392,129762,3020
7/5/21485,9162562,132,781911705,036189392,205762,3020
7/6/21486,1722562,133,692911705,225189392,281762,3042
7/7/21486,3711992,134,547855705,414189392,368872,3062

An examination of cases broken down by age group reveals that the 18-49 age group continues to have the highest rate of infection. There was a marked increase in new daily cases in this age group from June 15 to June 18, with moderate increases for the other three age groups. 

Despite the availability of vaccines for children 12 and up, in California, we have not seen a marked decrease in the number of new cases in children over the past two weeks. From June 19 to July 2, the 0-17 age group averaged 276 new infections per day, a 69% increase compared to the previous 14-day period. (The daily average for June 4-18 was 163.) As of June 30, the California Department of Public Health reports 4 COVID-19 deaths in children under the age of 5 and 19 deaths in children ages 5-17. To date, 486,371 children in California have been infected with COVID-19. The US Census Bureau estimates that there are 8,890,250 children in California, so approximately 5.4% of children have had a documented case of COVID-19.

Watching World Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC.

LocationTotal Infections as of 7/02/21New Infections on 7/02/21Total DeathsNew Deaths on 7/02/21% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World183,836,958(5,248,302 new infections in 14 days)437,5483,979,868(113,224 new deaths in 14 days)8,4952.35%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) NoNo
USA34,580,198
(ranked #1)
18,399
621,161
(ranked #1)
32210.38%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Brazil18,687,469(ranked #3)   65,165(ranked #1) 522,068(ranked #2)1,8798.72%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
India30,501,189(ranked #2)47,252(ranked #2)401,068(ranked #3)7872.18%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)NoNo
United Kingdom4,855,169(ranked #7)27,125128,189277.11%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
California, USA3,700,750(ranked #13 in world)1,29562,622579.66%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru) NoNo
Mexico2,525,350(ranked #15)6,081233,248(ranked #4)2011.93%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
South Africa2,019,826(ranked #19)24,270621,3223033.36%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)NoNo
Canada1,416,317(ranked #24)1,00726,338433.72%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Yes, except Alberta ProvinceNo
Poland2,880,4107(ranked #14)9675,065217.61%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)NoNo
Turkey5,435,831(ranked #6)4,89149,829276.37%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Russia5,561,360(ranked #5)23,218                                                  136,5656793.80%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)NoNo
Argentina4,512,439(ranked #8)20,88895.3826109.69%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gama/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Colombia4,512,302(ranked #9)28,005107,72355868.35%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Peru2,060,344(ranked #18)2,790192,902(ranked #5)2156.16%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Indonesia2,228,938(ranked #17)25,83059,53453910.8%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)NoNo
*Also referred to as CAL.20C


SARS-CoV-2, Children, and MIS-C/PIMS

I’m pleased to see that COVID-19 cases and MIS-C (PIMS) cases in children in the US are finally getting national attention. The CDC now tracks total MIS-C cases and deaths in children and young adults up to 20 years old in the United States. As of June 28, CDC reported 4,196 cases of MIS-C that meet the case definition and 37 deaths—that’s 178 new cases and one new death since the June 2 report. The CDC notes, “As of October 1, the number of cases meeting the case definition for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States surpassed 1,000. As of February 1, this number surpassed 2,000, and exceeded 3,000 as of April 1.” This means it took seven months to reach 1,000 MIS-C cases, only four months to reach an additional 1,000 cases, and only two months to add an additional 1,185 cases. This suggests to us that variants are causing more MIS-C. 

Date of ReportingTotal MIS-C PatientsChange Since Last ReportTotal MIS-C DeathsChange Since Last Report
6/28/20214196+17837+1
6/2/20214018+27636+1
5/3/20213742+55735-1
3/29/20213185+56836+3
3/1/2021261733

Schools in the United States have been open throughout the pandemic, with teachers and education support professionals demonstrating their extraordinary ability to adapt in adverse circumstances. Teachers all over the country reinvented their teaching, taking their classrooms online in order to provide safe and remote learning experiences for students. The so-called “reopening” of schools, which more accurately refers to the opening of school buildings, as schools never closed, has been highly politicized, with many governors issuing mandates for in-person instruction, even as case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in their states rose exponentially. The CDC has maintained that transmission risk in schools is minimal, provided that adequate safety measures are taken; however, we know that many states have not properly enforced universal masking (and some are repealing mask mandates this week), and we know that many school facilities are not equipped with the proper air handling systems. With more school buildings opening, there is a growing body of research that suggests that COVID-19 transmission can and does happen in schools. 

After recommending for months that school buildings be open, in mid-February (a year into the pandemic), The American Academy of Pediatrics, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Association, finally began tracking data on COVID-19 in children at the state and national level. Data reporting by states is still voluntary, and every state is different in its willingness to collect and disclose data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing rates in children. 

As of the APA’s July 1 report, only 11 states provide age distribution for testing. This makes it difficult to hold states accountable for testing each age group in proportion to its population. We’ve seen a trend in states where testing data with age distribution is available that children are tested at lower rates than adults. Hospitalization data by age group is only available in 24 states and New York City, so we only understand the severity of COVID-19 infections in children for about half the country. Age distribution for cases is provided by 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Age distribution for deaths is provided in 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It’s worth noting that New York State does not provide age data for cases, testing, hospitalizations, and deaths. Two states, Florida and Utah, only report cases in children aged 0-14, so the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in children ages 15-17 is unknown in these states. 

As of July 1, children represented 14.2% of all COVID-19 cases reported to APA. A total of 335 child deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in 43 states. The following states do not report child mortality due to COVID-19: Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia. 

If we truly want to keep children safe, especially as many school buildings open for in-person instruction, we need to collect more complete data in every state on child testing rates, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Vaccinating America’s Children

The New York Times reports that nationally, 55.6% of people 12 and up are fully vaccinated, while 58.4% of people 18 and up are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Only 47.5% of the total population is fully vaccinated. 

Some states are falling far behind when it comes to getting children—and the general population—fully vaccinated. Alabama and Mississippi have only fully vaccinated 33% of their population. Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have fully vaccinated more than 60% of their population, with Vermont having the highest vaccination rate at 74%. California has fully vaccinated 51% of their population. 

The Road Ahead

President Biden has made the pandemic a first priority and has now ordered enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccination by the end of this month. As of 7/7/21, the CDC reports that 182.8 million people (approximately 55.1% of the population) have had one dose of any vaccine. 157.9 million people (47.6% of the population) are fully vaccinated. The rate of people who are fully vaccinated has increased by less than 3% in the past two weeks. 

As of May 10, all people in the U.S. over the age of 12 are eligible to receive a vaccine. The Biden administration has already exceeded its goal of administering 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days of the administration. The Pfizer-BioNtech is already approved for ages 12-15 and the Moderna vaccine should be approved in June 2021. Moderna has applied for emergency use authorization to administer their mRNA vaccines to children aged 12-15. Testing is ongoing for children in younger age groups and may be approved for ages 2-11 by the end of September 2021. 

Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully. In the United States, Hawaii is doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. These interventions and vaccination should keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health care delivery systems world-wide. New mutations like Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 and the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants will probably spread rapidly throughout the United States over the next 90 days as many states (ex. Texas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Wyoming and South Carolina) open up everything and do away with masking and social distancing. We will probably see increased new infections per day in the United States. In the UK, Alpha/B.1.1.7, has increased the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. This and other mutants may do the same thing in the USA.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination adenovirus vaccine are all being used to immunize people in the USA. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Novavax vaccine may be available in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

The bad news is that all currently available vaccines are based on the spike protein sequence identified in China in December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce new vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance at least every 4 to 6 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. A surrogate marker of protection like antibody to the mutated Receptor Binding Domains of SARS-CoV-2 should be considered for vaccine approval. 

The ideal approach to addressing the major mutations on at least five continents would be to make vaccines against each of the mutations. I’d get all of the vaccine companies and contract production companies on a call and “suggest” that two companies at least make and mass produce one of the four mutations. The government would pay the cost and buy at least 200 million doses in advance for each variant at say $40 a dose. The total cost to purchase the vaccine (800 million doses) would only be 32 billion dollars. Give each company a billion dollars each for development costs (another 8 billion dollars). Spend another two billion dollars for syringes and you’ve got enough booster doses to vaccinate 200 million people for all 4 variants. 42 billion dollars would be a small price to pay to catch up with the current mutations. Even if you had to do this every two years, it would be well worth the dollars spent. 

We are not doing adequate numbers of PCR or antigen detection assays in the United States. According to JHU, in January of 2021, we were doing up to 2,307,949 tests per day. In March 2021, the highest number of tests per day was 1,709,210, and in April, the highest number of tests per day was 2,008,319. Currently, we’re doing 444,718 tests per day (7-day moving average); that’s 1,563,601 fewer tests per day than the April high. 

We still need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. In December 2020, WHO asked countries to increase their sequencing rates, and the European Commission asked member states to set a goal of 10%. The CDC then set a goal of 5% for the United States. At the end of June 2021, the United States had a SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing rate of 1.69%, whereas the United Kingdom had a genome sequencing rate of 10.2%. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we still need to make and distribute more vaccines to other countries, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, essential workers and especially teachers and students. I’m still hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s infectious disease problems. 

What Our Team Is Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations for SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make any projections since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the tenth time in a 14-day period. There were 170 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 4,978 infections per day.  Our infections per day are still high, probably secondary to SARS-CoV-2 mutants, to include the Alpha/B.1.1.7 isolate, the Iota/B.1.526 isolate, the Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 isolate, the Beta/B.1.351 isolate, the Gamma/P.1 and Zeta/P.2 isolates, and the new isolate, Deta/B.1.617+. I would predict that the opening of schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, indoor dining and travel all will contribute to further spread of multiple SARS-CoV-2 mutants and rising numbers  in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Increased traveling as well as summer vacations, and the July 4 holiday will all cause further increases. Vaccinations, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden SARS-CoV-2 plan (day 150 of plan) will be necessary to stop spread of mutants and cause  further reductions in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the future. On 6/18/21, the United States had 13,389 new infections. There were also 393 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is decreasing, but 4,160 patients are still seriously or critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 1,378 in the last 14 days, while 4,200 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients is decreasing for the fifth 14-day period, but a large number of patients are still dying each day (average 300/day). 

As of 6/18/21, we have had 616,920 deaths and 34,393,269 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 201,569 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding an average of 100,785 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in 10,000 to 20,000 deaths. On 6/18/21, twenty-two states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 33 states have had greater than 5,000 total deaths. Ten states (Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 20,000 deaths. Four states (Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 35,000 deaths. In the world, 42 other countries have greater than 500,000 infections and 58 other countries have greater than 5,000 deaths.

On 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 6/18/21, in the United States, 10.33% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 8 months, over 7% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

As of 6/18/21, California was ranked 36th in infection percentage at 9.63%. In North Dakota 14.50% of the population was infected (ranked #1), while Rhode Island was at 14.38% (ranked #2) and South Dakota was at 14.06% of the population infected (ranked #3). Thirty-one states have greater than 10% of their population infected and 42 states have greater than 9% of their population infected. Only one state has less than 3% of their population infected: Hawaii (2.62%).

The Threat of SARS-CoV-2 Variants

In a response for the need for “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels,” at the end of May, the World Health Organization assigned a letter from the Greek alphabet to each SARS-CoV-2 variant. GISAID, Nextstrain, and Pango will continue to use the previously established nomenclature. For our purposes, we’ll be referring to each variant by both its Greek alphabet letter and the Pango nomenclature. 

The WHO has sorted variants into two categories: Variants of Concern (VOC) and Variants of Interest (VOI). The criteria for Variants of Concern are as follows:

  • Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or 
  • Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or 
  • Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.  

The WHO categorizes the following four variants as Variants of Concern (VOC):

The criteria for Variants of Interest (VOI) are as follows:

  • has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries; OR  
  • is otherwise assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group. 

The WHO categorizes the following six variants as Variants of Interest (VOI):

The two variants of concern that have garnered most of our attention recently are Alpha (B.1.1.7) and Delta (B.1.617.2). Alpha, first detected in the United Kingdom in September of 2020, has been detected in almost every country and all 50 states in the U.S. On May 22, 2021, the CDC reported that Alpha made up approximately 69% of COVID-19 cases in the previous two weeks. 

Alpha is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates. There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. A study published March 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the risk of death increased by 64% in patients infected with Alpha compared to all other isolates (known at the time). 

The Delta variant (B.1.617.2), first identified in India, is on track to overtake Alpha (B.1.1.7) as the dominant variant worldwide. In the past month, it accounted for 96% of isolations in India, 87% of isolations in the United Kingdom, 92% in Singapore, 84% in Russia, 40% in Israel, and 33% in Australia. In the United States, Delta accounted for 12.9% of isolations in the past four weeks, compared to 3.7% two weeks ago. This suggests the proportion of Delta cases is nearly doubling every week. At this rate, Delta will become the dominant variant in the U.S. by mid-July. 

On 4/10/21, the CDC stopped providing data to the public on the number of reported cases of all variants of SARS-CoV-2, both nationally and by state. This data used to be available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html. The CDC claims that the data is available in its COVID-19 Data Tracker, but only percentages, not actual case numbers, are available, and the data ends on May 22, 2021.   

Luckily, GISAID is still reporting variant data. The United States has had 3,145 isolations of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) in the last four weeks and there have been a total of 181,209 cases of Alpha/B.1.1.7 identified in the US to date. (See chart below.)

For the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant, only India and the United Kingdom have more isolated cases than in the United States, which has 3,564 total cases, 916 of which were identified in the last four weeks. The UK, in the last 7 days, has had 58,830 new infections and 78 new deaths. The preceding week had 44,009 new infections and 55 deaths. We know that this is because of the increase in prevalence of the Delta variant. According to Public Health England, “numbers of the Delta (VOC-21APR-02) variant in the UK have risen by 33,630 since last week to a total of 75,953. The most recent data show 99% of sequenced and genotyped cases across the country are the Delta variant.” In the United States the prevalence of the Delta variant increased from 4% of isolates to 10% of isolates in one week.

At 2,130 cases, the United States has the fourth highest number of isolations of the Beta variant (B.1.351, first identified in South Africa), and 21 of these were in the last four weeks. 

And the United States still has now the most isolations of the Gamma variant (P.1) in the world, with 16,208 overall and 735 in the past four weeks. 

The WHO has also recently labeled the Lambda variant (C.37), which was first identified in Peru in August of 2020, as a variant of interest. The United States has the second largest number of isolations of Lambda, after Chile, with 524 total and 11 in the past four weeks. Lambda causes over 80% of infections in Peru which experienced a surge in new cases this spring and, as of June 18, has had 2,023,179 infections and 189,933 deaths. 

COVID-19 in California

The following data were reported by the California Department of Public Health:

DateTotal CasesNew CasesTotal DeathsNew DeathsHospitalizedIn ICUFully Vaccinated
6/4/213,687,7361,04762,179871,06226017,662,712
6/5/213,688,8931,15762,242631,04224317,813,305
6/6/213,689,9941,10162,4702281,03522117,947,342
6/7/213,690,86887462,47331,01121918,011,744
6/8/213,691,66079262,47961,01522818,100,412
6/9/213,692,50684662,499201,03023118,240,912
6/10/213,693,36285662,538391,00123418,431,265
6/11/213,694,4981,13662,5935598223318,542,484
6/12/213,695,5301,03262,508-8595524018,637,504
6/13/213,696,47294262,512491524118,694,365
6/14/213,697,29982762,505-793923918,731,215
6/15/213,697,92762862,5151097725118,875,034
6/16/213,698,62669962,5341998124218,970,053
6/17/213,699,45582962,5653195623219,074,396
6/18/213,700,7501,29562,6225795123319,164,548

California dropped its mask mandate and most public space capacity limits on June 15. Over the past two weeks, daily new cases in California have hovered between 792 and 1,295. The two-week high for daily new cases occurred on June 18. More than 900 Californians are still hospitalized with COVID-19, with more than 200 of those in the ICU.

An examination of cases broken down by age group reveals that the 18-49 age group continues to have the highest rate of infection. There was a marked increase in new daily cases in this age group from June 15 to June 18, with moderate increases for the other three age groups. 

Age of Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in California

Date0-17 yrs Total0-17 New Cases18-49 yrs Total18-49 New Cases50-64 yrs Total50-64 New Cases65+ yrs Total65+ New CasesUnknown TotalUnknown New Cases
6/4/21480,5561702,114,286621700,579150390,0211112,294-5
6/5/21480,7431872,114,961675700,764185390,1351142,290-4
6/6/21480,9762332,115,563602700,952188390,210752,2933
6/7/21481,1501742,116,061498701,074122390,290802,2930
6/8/21481,2861362,116,510449701,212138390,359692,2930
6/9/21481,4331472,116,998488701,346134390,436772,2930
6/10/21481,5761432,117,480482701,491145390,522862,2930
6/11/21481,7721962,118,129649701,671180390,6371152,289-4
6/12/21481,9651932,118,723594701,826155390,722852,2945
6/13/21482,1261612,119,276553701,972146390,812902,286-8
6/14/21482,2911652,119,756480702,101129390,866542,285-1
6/15/21482,4061152,120,111355702,212111390,912462,2861
6/16/21482,5241182,120,523412702,312100390,983712,284-2
6/17/21482,6631392,121,032509702,429117391,045622,2862
6/18/21482,8752122,121,782750702,635206391,1701252,2882

New daily COVID-19 cases in the 0-17 age group hovered between 115 and 233. It’s worth noting that new cases did not steadily decrease among this or any age group over the past 14 days. 

Despite the availability of vaccines for children 12 and up, in California, we have not seen a marked decrease in the number of new cases in children over the past two weeks. There have been an average of 166 new infections in children per day for the past 14 days, with 212 new infections on June 12. As of June 18, in California, 482,875 children have been infected. The US Census Bureau estimates that there are 8,890,250 children in California, so approximately 5.4% of children have been infected with COVID-19.

Watching World Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC, whose most recent data on variants is from May 8. 

LocationTotal Infections as of 6/18/21New Infections on 6/18/21Total DeathsNew Deaths on 6/18/21% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World178,588,656401,0963,866,6448,5242.29%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) NoNo
USA34,393,269
(ranked #1)
13,389
616,920
(ranked #1)
39310.33%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Brazil17,802,176(ranked #3)   98,135(ranked #1) 498,621(ranked #2)2,4498.31%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
India29,822,764(ranked #2)60,800(ranked #2)385,167(ranked #3)1,2692.14%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)NoNo
United Kingdom4,610,893(ranked #7)10.476127,956116.75%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
California, USA3,700,750(ranked #13 in world)1,29562,622579.67%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Theta/P.3 (Philippines) Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru) NoNo
Mexico2,467,643(ranked #15)4,253230,792(ranked #4)1681.89%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
South Africa1,796,589(ranked #19)10,51058,4411182.99%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)NoNo
Canada1,407,269(ranked #23)1,01626,023113.69%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Kappa/B.1.617.1 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)Yes, except Alberta ProvinceNo
Poland2,878,466(ranked #14)19074,782487.61%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)NoNo
Turkey5,359,,728(ranked #5)5,57549,071596.28%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Russia5,281,309(ranked #6)17,262                                                   128,4454533.61%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)NoNo
Argentina4,242,763(ranked #9)20,36388,2474589.30%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gama/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617.2 (India)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Colombia3,886,614(ranked #10)28,79098,7465907.56%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo
Peru2,023,179(ranked #17)3,463189,933(ranked #5)1766.05%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Lambda/C.37 (Peru)NoNo

*Also referred to as CAL.20C

SARS-CoV-2, Children, and MIS-C/PIMS

I’m pleased to see that COVID-19 cases and MIS-C (PIMS) cases in children in the US are finally getting national attention. The CDC now tracks total MIS-C cases and deaths in children and young adults up to 20 years old in the United States. As of June 2, CDC reported 4,018 cases of MIS-C that meet the case definition and 36 deaths—that’s 276 new cases and one new death since the May 3 report. The CDC notes, “As of October 1, the number of cases meeting the case definition for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States surpassed 1,000. As of February 1, this number surpassed 2,000, and exceeded 3,000 as of April 1.” This means it took seven months to reach 1,000 MIS-C cases, only four months to reach an additional 1,000 cases, and only two months to add an additional 1,185 cases. This suggests to us that Alpha/B.1.1.7 is causing more MIS-C. 

Date of ReportingTotal MIS-C PatientsChange Since Last ReportTotal MIS-C DeathsChange Since Last Report
6/2/20214018+27636+1
5/3/20213742+55735-1
3/29/20213185+56836+3
3/1/2021261733

Schools in the United States have been open throughout the pandemic, with teachers and education support professionals demonstrating their extraordinary ability to adapt in adverse circumstances. Teachers all over the country reinvented their teaching, taking their classrooms online in order to provide safe and remote learning experiences for students. The so-called “reopening” of schools, which more accurately refers to the opening of school buildings, as schools never closed, has been highly politicized, with many governors issuing mandates for in-person instruction, even as case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in their states rose exponentially. The CDC has maintained that transmission risk in schools is minimal, provided that adequate safety measures are taken; however, we know that many states have not properly enforced universal masking (and some are repealing mask mandates this week), and we know that many school facilities are not equipped with the proper air handling systems. With more school buildings opening, there is a growing body of research that suggests that COVID-19 transmission can and does happen in schools. 

After recommending for months that school buildings be open, in mid-February (a year into the pandemic), The American Academy of Pediatrics, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Association, finally began tracking data on COVID-19 in children at the state and national level. Data reporting by states is still voluntary, and every state is different in its willingness to collect and disclose data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing rates in children. 

As of the APA’s June 10 report, only 11 states provide age distribution for testing. This makes it difficult to hold states accountable for testing each age group in proportion to its population. We’ve seen a trend in states where testing data with age distribution is available that children are tested at lower rates than adults. Hospitalization data by age group is only available in 24 states and New York City, so we only understand the severity of COVID-19 infections in children for about half the country. Age distribution for cases is provided by 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Age distribution for deaths is provided in 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It’s worth noting that New York State does not provide age data for cases, testing, hospitalizations, and deaths. Two states, Florida and Utah, only report cases in children aged 0-14, so the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in children ages 15-17 is unknown in these states. 

As of June 10, children represented 14.1% of all COVID-19 cases reported to APA. A total of 330 child deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in 43 states (an increase of 3 child deaths in one week). The following states do not report child mortality due to COVID-19: Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Texas only reports age data for 3% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, so state-level data from Texas is extremely limited for assessing the incidence of COVID-19 in children. Even considering this, Texas reported 54 (+1) child deaths. Arizona reported 33, California 23, Colorado 15, Florida 7, Georgia 10, Illinois 20 (+1), Maryland 10, Tennessee 10, Massachusetts 8, Pennsylvania 11, and New York City 25 (+1). 

If we truly want to keep children safe, especially as many school buildings open for in-person instruction, we need to collect more complete data in every state on child testing rates, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The New York Times reports that nationally, 52% of people 12 and up are fully vaccinated, while 55% of people 18 and up are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Only 45% of the total population is fully vaccinated. 

Some states are falling far behind when it comes to getting children—and the general population—fully vaccinated. Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Wyoming, Louisiana, and Tennessee have fully vaccinated less than 35% of their population. Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Hawaii have fully vaccinated more than 50% of their population, with Vermont having the highest vaccination rate at 64%. California has fully vaccinated 48% of their population. 

The Road Ahead

We are on Day 150 of the Biden-Harris administration.The President has made the pandemic a first priority and has now ordered enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccination by July 2021. As of 6/18/21, the CDC reports that 176.7 million people (approximately 53.2% of the population) have had one dose of any vaccine. 149.1 million people (44.9% of the population) are fully vaccinated. The rate of people who are fully vaccinated has only increased by 3% in the past two weeks. 

As of May 10, all people in the U.S. over the age of 12 are eligible to receive a vaccine. The Biden administration has already exceeded its goal of administering 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days of the administration. The Pfizer-BioNtech is already approved for ages 12-15 and the Moderna vaccine should be approved in June 2021. Moderna has applied for emergency use authorization to administer their mRNA vaccines to children aged 12-15. Testing is ongoing for children in younger age groups and may be approved for ages 2-11 by the end of September 2021. 

Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully. In the United States, Hawaii is doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. These interventions and vaccination should keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health care delivery systems world-wide. New mutations like Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 and the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants will probably spread rapidly throughout the United States over the next 90 days as many states (ex. Texas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Wyoming and South Carolina) open up everything and do away with masking and social distancing. We will probably see increased new infections per day in the United States. In the UK, Alpha/B.1.1.7, has increased the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. This and other mutants may do the same thing in the USA.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination adenovirus vaccine are all being used to immunize people in the USA. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Novavax vaccine may be available in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

The bad news is that all currently available vaccines are based on the spike protein sequence identified in China in December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce new vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance at least every 4 to 6 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. A surrogate marker of protection like antibody to the mutated Receptor Binding Domains of SARS-CoV-2 should be considered for vaccine approval. 

The ideal approach to addressing the major mutations on at least five continents would be to make vaccines against each of the mutations. I’d get all of the vaccine companies and contract production companies on a call and “suggest” that two companies at least make and mass produce one of the four mutations. The government would pay the cost and buy at least 200 million doses in advance for each variant at say $40 a dose. The total cost to purchase the vaccine (800 million doses) would only be 32 billion dollars. Give each company a billion dollars each for development costs (another 8 billion dollars). Spend another two billion dollars for syringes and you’ve got enough booster doses to vaccinate 200 million people for all 4 variants. 42 billion dollars would be a small price to pay to catch up with the current mutations. Even if you had to do this every two years, it would be well worth the dollars spent. 

We still need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we still need to make and distribute more vaccines to other countries, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, essential workers and especially teachers and students. I’m still hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s infectious disease problems. 

What Our Team Is Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations for SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make any projections since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the eighth time in a 14-day period. There were 137 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 12,293 infections per day.  Our infections per day are still high, probably secondary to SARS-CoV-2 mutants, to include the Alpha/B.1.1.7 isolate, the Iota/B.1.526 isolate, the Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 isolate, the Beta/B.1.351 isolate, the Gamma/P.1 and Zeta/P.2 isolates, and the new isolate, Deta/B.1.617+. I would predict that the opening of schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, indoor dining and travel all will contribute to further spread of multiple SARS-CoV-2 mutants and rising numbers  in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Increased traveling as well as summer vacations, and the July 4 holiday will all cause further increases. Vaccinations, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden SARS-CoV-2 plan (day 136 of plan) will be necessary to stop spread of mutants and cause  further reductions in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the future. On 6/04/21, 16,925 new infections occurred in the United States. There were also 520 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is decreasing, but 5,631 patients are still seriously or critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 1,761 in the last 14 days, while 6,577 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients is decreasing for the fourth 14-day period, but a large number of patients are still dying each day. 

As of 6/04/21, we have had 612,249 deaths and 34,192,023 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 271,267 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding an average of 135,633 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in 10,000 to 20,000 deaths. On 6/04/21, twenty-two states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 33 states have had greater than 5,000 total deaths. Nine states (Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 20,000 deaths. Four states (Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 35,000 deaths.

For comparison, on 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 6/04/21, in the United States, 10.32% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 6 months, over 6% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

As of 6/04/21, California was still ranked 36th in infection percentage at 9.60%. In North Dakota 14.45% of the population was infected (ranked #1), while Rhode Island was at 14.34% (ranked #2) and South Dakota was at 14.04% of the population infected (ranked #3). Thirty-one states have greater than 10% of their population infected and 42 states have greater than 9% of their population infected. Only one state has less than 3% of their population infected: Hawaii (2.52%).

New Mutants

In a response for the need for “easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels,” at the end of May, the World Health Organization assigned a letter from the Greek alphabet to each SARS-CoV-2 variant. GISAID, Nextstrain, and Pango will continue to use the previously established nomenclature. For our purposes, we’ll be referring to each variant by both its Greek alphabet letter and the Pango nomenclature. 

The WHO has sorted variants into two categories: Variants of Concern (VOC) and Variants of Interest (VOI). The criteria for Variants of Concern are as follows:

  • Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or 
  • Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or 
  • Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.  

The WHO categorizes the following four variants as Variants of Concern (VOC):

The criteria for Variants of Interest (VOI) are as follows:

  • has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries; OR  
  • is otherwise assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group. 

The WHO categorizes the following six variants as Variants of Interest (VOI):

A new mutant SARS-CoV-2 virus (lineage B.1.1.7, now referred to by WHO as Alpha), first seen in the UK in September 2020, has now been found in multiple other countries. This isolate has now been found in 50 states and the District of Columbia. This isolate is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates. There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. A study published March 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the risk of death increased by 64% in patients infected with the B.1.1.7 variant compared to all other isolates. Due to air and other travel, this isolate will become the dominant isolate worldwide. 

On 4/10/21, the CDC stopped providing data to the public on the number of reported cases of all variants of SARS-CoV-2, both nationally and by state. This data used to be available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html. The CDC claims that the data is available in its COVID-19 Data Tracker, but only percentages, not actual case numbers, are available, and the data ends on May 8, 2021.   

Luckily, GISAID is still reporting variant data. The United States has had more isolations of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) in the last four weeks (9,795) than any other country in the world, to include the United Kingdom. There have been a total of 160,842 cases of Alpha/B.1.1.7 identified in the US to date. (See chart below.)

At 1,842 cases, the United States has the fourth highest number of isolations of the Beta variant (B.1.351, first identified in South Africa), and 76 of these were in the last four weeks. 

And the United States has now surpassed Brazil for the most isolations of the Gamma variant (P.1) in the world, with 12,887 overall and 1,527 in the past four weeks. 

As for the Delta Variant (B.1.617+), the variant recently identified in India, only India and the United Kingdom have more isolated cases than in the United States, which has 1,888 total cases, 546 of which were identified in the last four weeks. 

The United States has also surpassed both the UK and Nigeria for the most isolations of the Eta varian (B.1.525) in the world, with 1,064 overall and 32 in the past four weeks. 

A disturbing report out of the UK has found a second mutation in Alpha/B.1.1.7. This mutation, which occurs in the loop sequence, has also been found in the Beta/B.1.351 and Gamma/P.1 variants. (The loop sequence is in the receptor binding motif in the receptor binding domain of the S1 sequence of the spike protein.) This mutation involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to lysine. This point mutation allows the virus to bind better to the ACE2 receptor, which increases infectivity. People who are exposed to one of these variants (versus the old B2 isolate) are more likely to be infected and are more likely to transmit the virus to others. 

In our last three updates we summarized a research letter published in Clinical Infectious Diseases about a patient in the UK who was first infected in April with a B2 isolate and experienced only mild symptoms but was infected with the new Alpha/B.1.1.7 variant in December and became critically ill. The patient described in this research letter was not protected by a natural infection with a B2 lineage SARS-CoV-2 isolate in April 2020 from having a potentially lethal second infection with a B.1.1.7 lineage variant in December 2020, suggesting that folks who have had a past SARS-CoV-2 infection should not expect to have any immunity to new variants such as Alpha/B.1.1.7. All of the currently available vaccines were developed with spike protein from B2 lineages. Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca/Oxford are currently remaking their spike protein vaccines to address the mutations in the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine did not work in a small trial in South Africa, where most of the patients had the Beta/B.1.351 mutant. 

New Mutant Delta/B.1.617+ Arrives in California

Stanford University announced five weeks ago that they have identified five infections with the Delta/B.1.617+ variant in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are actually three different B.1.617 variants: B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3. The most common variant appears to be B.1.617.2. This isolate is a double-mutant responsible for greater than 50% of the infections in India. The data from India the last 14 days ending on 6/04/21 is still disturbing. India has had 2,541,685 infections in the last 14 days or an average of 181,549 infections per day. During this 14-day period India reported 59,354 deaths or 4,240 deaths per day. On May 21, 2021, India reported 121,476 new infections and 3,382 new deaths. On 6/04/21 the total deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 infections in India stood at 344,101. India, with a population of 1,390,456,911, has had only 2.06% of the country infected. Their hospitals are still running out of vaccines, oxygen, medications, beds and ventilators. Sadly a health disaster continues in the world’s most populous country. I would predict that prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in India or first generation SARS-CoV-2 vaccines will have a decreased effect on this mutant discussed in the next paragraph. 

Many of you may now be familiar with the E484K mutation present in the Beta/B.1.351 isolate, the Gamma/P.1 isolate, the Iota/B.1.526 isolate, and the double mutant Eta/B.1.525. When vaccine manufacturers make booster vaccines to address these variants, they will only account for the E484K mutation. What sets this Delta/B.1.617+ variant apart from the other variants is that it has a different point mutation at amino acid 484 that involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to glutamine (E484Q). This point mutation, like E484K, probably allows the virus to bind to the ACE2 receptor and evade neutralizing antibodies directed against the original Wuhan sequence. A vaccine created to address E484K would not address this isolate. 

The second mutation in Delta/B.1.617+ is L452R, which is one of the same mutations seen in Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429. This mutation is also not being covered by any vaccine currently being made as a booster. It’s possible that people in California who were infected by the Epsilon mutant in the last six months might have some additional cross protective antibodies to Delta/B.1.617+.

Watching the Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC, whose most recent data on variants is from May 8. 

LocationTotal Infections as of 6/04/21New Infections on 6/04/21Total DeathsNew Deaths on 5/21/21% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World173,713,909400,0753,736,0999,2832.22%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617+ (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)NoNo
USA34,192,023
(ranked #1)
16,925
612,240
(ranked #1)
52010.32%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Iota/B.1.526 (USA-NYC)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)NoNo
Brazil16,841,954(ranked #3)   38,482(ranked #2) 470,968(ranked #2)1,1847.87%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)NoNo
India28,693,835(ranked #2)121,476(ranked #1)344,101(ranked #3)3,3822.06%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOC 32421Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
United Kingdom4,506,016(ranked #7)6,238127,823116.60%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
California, USA3,794,271(ranked #10 in world)1,12963,395529..60%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Zeta/P.2 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Mexico2,426,822(ranked #15)2,894228,362(ranked #4)2161.86%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
South Africa1,686,041(ranked #19)5,66856,832672.81%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Canada1,389,508(ranked #23)2,06325,679353.65%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)Yes, except Alberta ProvinceNo
Poland2,874,409(ranked #14)31774,101267.60%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Turkey5,276,,468(ranked #5)6,16947,976946.19%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gamma/P.1 (Brazil)NoNo
Russia5,108,129(ranked #6)8,947                                                   123,0373773.49%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Argentina3,915,397(ranked #9)30,95080,4115388.59%B2 lineageAlpha/B.1.1.7 (UK)Eta/B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)Beta/B.1.351 (SA)Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 (USA)*Gama/P.1 (Brazil)Delta/B.1.617+ (India)NoNo

*Also referred to as CAL.20C

SARS-CoV-2, Children, and MIS-C/PIMS

I’m pleased to see that COVID-19 cases and MIS-C (PIMS) cases in children in the US are finally getting national attention. The CDC now tracks total MIS-C cases and deaths in children and young adults up to 20 years old in the United States. As of June 2, CDC reported 4,018 cases of MIS-C that meet the case definition and 36 deaths—that’s 276 new cases and one new death since the May 3 report. The CDC notes, “As of October 1, the number of cases meeting the case definition for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States surpassed 1,000. As of February 1, this number surpassed 2,000, and exceeded 3,000 as of April 1.” This means it took seven months to reach 1,000 MIS-C cases, only four months to reach an additional 1,000 cases, and only two months to add an additional 1,185 cases. This suggests to us that Alpha/B.1.1.7 is causing more MIS-C. 

Date of ReportingTotal MIS-C PatientsChange Since Last ReportTotal MIS-C DeathsChange Since Last Report
6/2/20214018+27636+1
5/3/20213742+55735-1
3/29/20213185+56836+3
3/1/2021261733

Schools in the United States have been open throughout the pandemic, with teachers and education support professionals demonstrating their extraordinary ability to adapt in adverse circumstances. Teachers all over the country reinvented their teaching, taking their classrooms online in order to provide safe and remote learning experiences for students. The so-called “reopening” of schools, which more accurately refers to the opening of school buildings, as schools never closed, has been highly politicized, with many governors issuing mandates for in-person instruction, even as case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in their states rose exponentially. The CDC has maintained that transmission risk in schools is minimal, provided that adequate safety measures are taken; however, we know that many states have not properly enforced universal masking (and some are repealing mask mandates this week), and we know that many school facilities are not equipped with the proper air handling systems. With more school buildings opening, there is a growing body of research that suggests that COVID-19 transmission can and does happen in schools. 

After recommending for months that school buildings be open, in mid-February (a year into the pandemic), The American Academy of Pediatrics, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Association, finally began tracking data on COVID-19 in children at the state and national level. Data reporting by states is still voluntary, and every state is different in its willingness to collect and disclose data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing rates in children. 

As of the APA’s May 27 report, only 11 states provide age distribution for testing. This makes it difficult to hold states accountable for testing each age group in proportion to its population. We’ve seen a trend in states where testing data with age distribution is available that children are tested at lower rates than adults. Hospitalization data by age group is only available in 24 states and New York City, so we only understand the severity of COVID-19 infections in children for about half the country. Age distribution for cases is provided by 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Age distribution for deaths is provided in 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It’s worth noting that New York State does not provide age data for cases, testing, hospitalizations, and deaths. Two states, Florida and Utah, only report cases in children aged 0-14, so the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in children ages 15-17 is unknown in these states. 

As of May 27, A total of 322 child deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in 43 states (an increase of 6 child deaths in one week). In the United States, The following states do not report child mortality due to COVID-19: Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Texas only reports age data for 3% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, so state-level data from Texas is extremely limited for assessing the incidence of COVID-19 in children. Even considering this, Texas reported 52 child deaths. Arizona reported 33, California 23, Colorado 15 (+2), Florida 7, Georgia 10, Illinois 18, Maryland 10, Tennessee 10, Massachusetts 8 (+1), Pennsylvania 11, and New York City 24. 

If we truly want to keep children safe, especially as many school buildings open for in-person instruction, we need to collect more complete data in every state on child testing rates, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The New York Times reports that nationally, children 12 and up have higher vaccination rates than the general population, with 50% of children 12 and up vaccinated, and 53% of children 18 and up fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

However, some states are falling far behind when it comes to getting children—and the general population—fully vaccinated. Idaho, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana have given at least one shot to less than 10% of children 12-17 years old. Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Vermont are the only three states that have given at least one shot to at least 50% of children 12-15. California has given at least one shot to 36% of children 12-17 years old. 

The Road Ahead

We are on Day 122 of the Biden-Harris administration.The President has made the pandemic a first priority and has now ordered enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccination by July 2021. As of 6/5/21, 170.8 million people (approximately 51.5% of the population) have had one dose of any vaccine. 138.9 million people (41.9% of the population) are fully vaccinated. 

As of May 10, all people in the U.S. over the age of 12 are eligible to receive a vaccine. The Biden administration has already exceeded its goal of administering 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days of the administration. The Pfizer-BioNtech is already approved for ages 12-15 and the Moderna vaccine should be approved in June 2021. Moderna has applied for emergency use authorization to administer their mRNA vaccines to children aged 12-15. Testing is ongoing for children in younger age groups and may be approved for ages 2-11 by the end of September 2021. 

Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully. In the United States, Hawaii is doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. These interventions and vaccination should keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health care delivery systems world-wide. New mutations like Epsilon/B.1.427 + B.1.429 and the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants will probably spread rapidly throughout the United States over the next 90 days as many states (ex. Texas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Wyoming and South Carolina) open up everything and do away with masking and social distancing. We will probably see increased new infections per day in the United States. In the UK, Alpha/B.1.1.7, has increased the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. This and other mutants may do the same thing in the USA.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination adenovirus vaccine are all being used to immunize people in the USA. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Novavax vaccine may be available in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

The bad news is that all currently available vaccines are based on the spike protein sequence identified in China in December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce new vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance at least every 4 to 6 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. A surrogate marker of protection like antibody to the mutated Receptor Binding Domains of SARS-CoV-2 should be considered for vaccine approval. 

The ideal approach to addressing the major mutations on at least five continents would be to make vaccines against each of the mutations. I’d get all of the vaccine companies and contract production companies on a call and “suggest” that two companies at least make and mass produce one of the four mutations. The government would pay the cost and buy at least 200 million doses in advance for each variant at say $40 a dose. The total cost to purchase the vaccine (800 million doses) would only be 32 billion dollars. Give each company a billion dollars each for development costs (another 8 billion dollars). Spend another two billion dollars for syringes and you’ve got enough booster doses to vaccinate 200 million people for all 4 variants. 42 billion dollars would be a small price to pay to catch up with the current mutations. Even if you had to do this every two years, it would be well worth the dollars spent. 

We are not doing adequate numbers of PCR or antigen detection assays in the United States. According to JHU, in January of 2021, we were doing up to 2,307,949 tests per day. In March 2021, the highest number of tests per day was 1,709,210, and in April, the highest number of tests per day was 2,008,319. Currently, we’re doing 710,675 tests per day (7-day moving average); that’s 1,297,644 fewer tests per day than the April high. 

We still need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we still need to make and distribute more vaccines to other countries, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, essential workers and especially teachers and students. I’m still hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s infectious disease problems. 

What Our Team Is Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations for SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make any projections since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the sixth time in a 14-day period. There were 96 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 17,267 infections per day.Our infections per day are still high, probably secondary to SARS-CoV-2 mutants, to include the B.1.1.7 (UK isolate), a New York isolate B.1.526, the CAL.20C isolate, the South African isolate B.1.351, the Brazilian isolates P.1 and P.2, and the new Indian isolate B.1.617. I would predict that the opening of schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, indoor dining and travel all will contribute to further spread of multiple SARS-CoV-2 mutants and rising numbers  in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Increased traveling as well as upcoming Memorial Day weekend, summer vacations, and the July 4 holiday will all cause further increases. Vaccinations, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden SARS-CoV-2 plan (day 122 of plan) will be necessary to stop spread of mutants and cause  further reductions in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the future. On 5/21/21, 29,014 new infections occurred in the United States. There were also 603 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is decreasing, but 7,392 patients are still seriously or critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 1,748 in the last 14 days, while 8,497 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients is decreasing for the third 14 day period but a large number of patients are still dying each day. 

As of 5/21/21, we have had 603,408 deaths and 33,862,398 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 443,372 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding an average of 221,686 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in 10,000 to 20,000 deaths. On 5/21/21, twenty-two states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 33 states have had greater than 5,000 total deaths. Nine states (Michigan, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 20,000 deaths. Four states (Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 35,000 deaths.

For comparison, on 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 5/21/21, in the United States, 10.17% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 6 months, over 6% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

As of 5/21/21, California was still ranked 36th in infection percentage at 9.55%. In North Dakota 14.30% of the population was infected (ranked #1), while Rhode Island was at 14.27% (ranked #2) and South Dakota was at 14.00% of the population infected (ranked #3). Thirty-one states have greater than 10% of their population infected and 41 states have greater than 9% of their population infected. Only one state has less than 3% of their population infected: Hawaii (2.52%). Ten states still have greater than 1,000 new infections per day with Florida leading again on 5/21/21 with 2,371 infections.

New Mutants

A new mutant SARS-CoV-2 virus (lineage B.1.1.7), first seen in the UK in September 2020, has now been found in multiple other countries. There are 3,170 reported cases in the USA as of 3/11/21, 8337 cases as of 3/25/21 and 20,915 cases as of 4/10/21 in the US. This isolate has now been found in 50 states and the District of Columbia. This isolate is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates. There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. A study published March 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the risk of death increased by 64% in patients infected with the B.1.1.7 variant compared to all other isolates. Due to air and other travel, this isolate will become the dominant isolate worldwide. 

On 4/10/21, the CDC stopped providing data to the public on the number of reported cases of all variants of SARS-CoV-2, both nationally and by state. This data used to be available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html. The CDC claims that the data is available in its COVID-19 Data Tracker, but only percentages, not actual case numbers, are available, and the data ends on April 10, 2021.   

Luckily, GISAID is still reporting variant data. The United States has had more isolations of B.1.1.7 in the last four weeks (15,909) than any other country in the world, to include the United Kingdom. There have been a total of 132,214 cases of B.1.1.7 identified in the US to date. 22,300 have occurred in the last 4 weeks. (See chart below.)

At 191 cases, the United States has the fourth highest number of isolations of B.1.351 (the South African variant) in the last four weeks and a total of 1,564 isolations. 

And the United States has now surpassed Brazil for the most isolations of P.1 in the world, with 10,362 overall and 3,003 in the past four weeks. 

As for B.1.617, the variant recently identified in India, only India and the United Kingdom have more isolated cases than in the United States, which has 1,051 total cases, 506 of which were identified in the last four weeks. 

The United States has also surpassed both the UK and Nigeria for the most isolations of B.1.525 in the world, with 938 overall and 109 in the past four weeks. 

A disturbing report out of the UK has found a second mutation in B.1.1.7. This mutation, which occurs in the loop sequence, has also been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) variants. (The loop sequence is in the receptor binding motif in the receptor binding domain of the S1 sequence of the spike protein.) This mutation involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to lysine. This point mutation allows the virus to bind better to the ACE2 receptor, which increases infectivity. People who are exposed to one of these variants (versus the old B2 isolate) are more likely to be infected and are more likely to transmit the virus to others. 

In our last three updates we summarized a research letter published in Clinical Infectious Diseases about a patient in the UK who was first infected in April with a B2 isolate and experienced only mild symptoms but was infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant in December and became critically ill. The patient described in this research letter was not protected by a natural infection with a B2 lineage SARS-CoV-2 isolate in April 2020 from having a potentially lethal second infection with a B.1.1.7 lineage variant in December 2020, suggesting that folks who have had a past SARS-CoV-2 infection should not expect to have any immunity to new variants such as B.1.1.7. All of the currently available vaccines were developed with spike protein from B2 lineages. Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca/Oxford are currently remaking their spike protein vaccines to address the mutations in the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine did not work in a small trial in South Africa, where most of the patients had the South African mutant (B.1.351). 

A California Mutant

A fourth mutant isolate of SARS-CoV-2, B.1.429 + B.1.427 (CAL.20C), is the predominant mutation identified in California. This isolate does not have any of the mutations mentioned above, but contains five mutations, three of which are in the spike protein, but not in the receptor binding motif. This mutant may be partially responsible for the massive increase in infections in California, to include infections of people who had already recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection earlier. In California to date, we have had 3,775,758 infections and 62,858 total deaths. California is averaging 45 deaths per day in the last 14 days, which is a 13 deaths per day decrease from the preceding 14 day period. Currently, 9.55% of the population in California is infected. Nationally, we rank 35th in the percentage of people in the state infected. To my knowledge, only one privately held company is currently modifying their vaccine to cover the B.1.429 + B.1.427 mutant. 

New Indian Mutant B.1.617 Arrives in California

Stanford University announced five weeks ago that they have identified five infections with the Maharashtra India VOC 32421 (new variant designation B.1.617) in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are actually three different B.1.617 variants: B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3. The most common variant appears to be B.1.617.2 This isolate is a double-mutant responsible for greater than 50% of the infections in India. The data from India the last 14 days ending on 5/21/21 is still disturbing. India has had 4,398,458 infections in the last 14 days or an average of 314,176 infections per day. During this 14-day period India reported 57,243 deaths or 4,089 deaths per day. On May 21, 2021, India reported 254,395 new infections and 4,143 new deaths. On 5/21/21 the total deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 infections in India stood at 295,508. India, with a population of 1,390,456,911, has had only 1.88% of the country infected. Their hospitals are still running out of vaccines, oxygen, medications, beds and ventilators. Sadly a health disaster continues in the world’s most populous country. I would predict that prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in India or first generation SARS-CoV-2 vaccines will have a decreased effect on this mutant discussed in the next paragraph. 

Many of you may now be familiar with the E484K mutation present in the South African isolate, the Brazilian isolate, the New York isolate (B.1.256), and the new Nigerian/UK double mutant. When vaccine manufacturers make booster vaccines to address these variants, they will only account for the E484K mutation. What sets this Maharashtra India B.1.617 variant apart from the other variants is that it has a different point mutation at amino acid 484 that involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to glutamine (E484Q). This point mutation, like E484K, probably allows the virus to bind to the ACE2 receptor and evade neutralizing antibodies directed against the original Wuhan sequence. A vaccine created to address E484K would not address this isolate. 

The second mutation in Maharashtra India VOC B.1.617 is L452R, which is one of the same mutations seen in CAL.20C (B.1.429 + B.1.427). This mutation is also not being covered by any vaccine currently being made as a booster. It’s possible that people in California who were infected by the Cal.20C mutant in the last six months might have some additional cross protective antibodies to B.1.617.

Watching the Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC, whose most recent data on variants is from May 8. 

LocationTotal Infections as of 5/21/21New Infections on 5/21/21Total DeathsNew Deaths on 5/21/21% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World166,465,183621,0483,457,50012,7782.13%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.526 (USA-NYC)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421B.1.617+ (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)NoNo
USA33,862,398
(ranked #1)
29,014
(ranked #4)
603,408
(ranked #1)
65710.17%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.526 (USA-NYC)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)B.1.617+ (India)BV-1 (Texas, USA)NoNo
Brazil15,976,156(ranked #3)   77,598(ranked #2) 446,521(ranked #2)2,1367.46%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)NoNo
India26,285.069(ranked #2)254,395(ranked #1)295,508(ranked #3)4,1431.88%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOC 32421B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
United Kingdom4,457,752(ranked #7)2,829127,71096.53%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
California, USA3,775,758(ranked #9 in world)1,22362,858469.55%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.2 (Brazil)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Mexico2,390,140(ranked #15)2,628221,080(ranked #4)2301.83%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
South Africa1,628,335(ranked #20)3,33255,7191512.71%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Canada1,352,121(ranked #22)4,67625,162513.55%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)B.1.617+ (India)Yes, except Alberta ProvinceNo
Poland2,863,030(ranked #13)1,67872,6911917.57%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Turkey5,169,951(ranked #5)9,52845,8402146.07%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)NoNo
Russia4,983,845(ranked #6)8,937117,7393783.41%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo
Argentina3,482,512(ranked #11)35,46835,4686927.64%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)B.1.617+ (India)NoNo

*Also referred to as CAL.20C

SARS-CoV-2, Children, and MIS-C/PIMS

I’m pleased to see that COVID-19 cases and MIS-C (PIMS) cases in children in the US are finally getting national attention. The CDC now tracks total MIS-C cases and deaths in children and young adults up to 20 years old in the United States. As of May 3, CDC reported 3,742 cases of MIS-C that meet the case definition and 35 deaths—that’s 557 new cases and no new deaths since the March 29 report. The CDC notes, “As of October 1, the number of cases meeting the case definition for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States surpassed 1,000. As of February 1, this number surpassed 2,000, and exceeded 3,000 as of April 1.” This means it took seven months to reach 1,000 MIS-C cases, only four months to reach an additional 1,000 cases, and only two months to add an additional 1,185 cases. This suggests to us that B.1.1.7 is causing more MIS-C. We’re averaging over 500 new cases of MIS-C each month for the last two months, despite decreases in the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. 

Date of ReportingTotal MIS-C PatientsChange Since Last ReportTotal MIS-C DeathsChange Since Last Report
5/3/20213742+55735-1
3/29/20213185+56836+3
3/1/2021261733

Schools in the United States have been open throughout the pandemic, with teachers and education support professionals demonstrating their extraordinary ability to adapt in adverse circumstances. Teachers all over the country reinvented their teaching, taking their classrooms online in order to provide safe and remote learning experiences for students. The so-called “reopening” of schools, which more accurately refers to the opening of school buildings, as schools never closed, has been highly politicized, with many governors issuing mandates for in-person instruction, even as case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in their states rose exponentially. The CDC has maintained that transmission risk in schools is minimal, provided that adequate safety measures are taken; however, we know that many states have not properly enforced universal masking (and some are repealing mask mandates this week), and we know that many school facilities are not equipped with the proper air handling systems. With more school buildings opening, there is a growing body of research that suggests that COVID-19 transmission can and does happen in schools. 

After recommending for months that school buildings be open, in mid-February (a year into the pandemic), The American Academy of Pediatrics, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Association, finally began tracking data on COVID-19 in children at the state and national level. Data reporting by states is still voluntary, and every state is different in its willingness to collect and disclose data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing rates in children. 

As of the APA’s May 20 report, only 11 states provide age distribution for testing. This makes it difficult to hold states accountable for testing each age group in proportion to its population. We’ve seen a trend in states where testing data with age distribution is available that children are tested at lower rates than adults. Hospitalization data by age group is only available in 24 states and New York City, so we only understand the severity of COVID-19 infections in children for about half the country. Age distribution for cases is provided by 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It’s worth noting that New York State does not provide age data for cases, testing, hospitalizations, and deaths. Two states, Florida and Utah, only report cases in children aged 0-14, so the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in children ages 15-17 is unknown in these states. 

As of May 20, A total of 316 child deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in 43 states (an increase of 8 child deaths in one week). In the United States, The following states do not report child mortality due to COVID-19: Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Texas only reports age data for 3% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, so state-level data from Texas is extremely limited for assessing the incidence of COVID-19 in children. Even considering this, Texas reported 52 child deaths. Arizona reported 33 (+2), California 23 (+2), Colorado 13, Florida 7 (+1), Georgia 10, Illinois 18, Maryland 10, Tennessee 10, Massachusetts 7 (+2), Pennsylvania 11 (+1), and New York City 24. 

If we truly want to keep children safe, especially as many school buildings open for in-person instruction, we need to collect more complete data in every state on child testing rates, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The Road Ahead

We are on Day 122 of the Biden-Harris administration.The President has made the pandemic a first priority and has now ordered enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccination by July 2021. As of 5/24/21, 164.3 million people have had one dose of any vaccine. 131 million people are fully vaccinated. 

As of May 10, all people in the U.S. over the age of 12 are eligible to receive a vaccine. The Biden administration has already exceeded its goal of administering 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days of the administration. The Pfizer-BioNtech is already approved for ages 12-15 and the Moderna vaccine should be approved in June 2021. Moderna has applied for emergency use authorization to administer their mRNA vaccines to children aged 12-15. Testing is ongoing for children in younger age groups and may be approved for ages 2-11 by the end of September 2021. 

Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully. In the United States, Hawaii is doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. These interventions and vaccination should keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health care delivery systems world-wide. New mutations like B.1.429 + B.1.427 (Cal.20C) and the UK, Brazillian, South African, and Indian variants will probably spread rapidly throughout the United States over the next 90 days as many states (particularly in Texas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Wyoming and South Carolina) open up everything and do away with masking and social distancing. We will probably see increased new infections per day in the United States. In the UK, B.1.1.7, has increased the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. This and other mutants may do the same thing in the USA.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination adenovirus vaccine are all being used to immunize people in the USA. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Novavax vaccine may be available in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

The bad news is that all currently available vaccines are based on the Chinese spike protein sequence from December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce new vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance at least every 4 to 6 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. A surrogate marker of protection like antibody to the mutated Receptor Binding Domains of SARS-CoV-2 should be considered for vaccine approval. 

The ideal approach to spreading major mutations on at least five continents would be to make vaccines against each of the mutations. I’d get all of the vaccine companies and contract production companies on a call and “suggest” that two companies at least make and mass produce one of the four mutations. The government would pay the cost and buy at least 200 million doses in advance for each variant at say $40 a dose. The total cost to purchase the vaccine (800 million doses) would only be 32 billion dollars. Give each company a billion dollars each for development costs (another 8 billion dollars). Spend another two billion dollars for syringes and you’ve got enough booster doses to vaccinate 200 million people for all 4 variants. 42 billion dollars would be a small price to pay to catch up with the current mutations. Even if you had to do this every two years, it would be well worth the dollars spent. 

We are not doing adequate numbers of PCR or antigen detection assays in the United States. According to JHU, in January of 2021, we were doing up to 2,307,949 tests per day. In March 2021, the highest number of tests per day was 1,709,210, and in April, the highest number of tests per day was 2,008,319. Currently, we’re doing 975,589 tests per day (7-day moving average); that’s 453,963 fewer tests per day than the April high. 

We still need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we still need to make and distribute more vaccines for other countries, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, essential workers and especially teachers and students. I’m still hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s infectious disease problems. 

What Our Team Is Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations and projections for infections and deaths from SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make any projections since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the sixth time in a 14-day period. There were 28 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 17,700 infections per day.  Our infections per day is still extremely high, probably secondary to SARS-CoV-2 mutants, to include the B.1.1.7 (UK isolate), a New York isolate B.1.526, the CAL.20C isolate, the South African isolate and the Brazilian isolates and the new Indian isolate. I would predict that the opening of schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, indoor dining and travel all will contribute to further spread of multiple SARS-CoV-2 mutants and rising numbers  in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Increased traveling as well as upgoing Memorial Day weekend, summer vacations and the July 4th holiday will all cause further increases. Vaccinations, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden SARS-CoV-2 plan (day 108 of plan) will be necessary to stop spread of mutants and cause  further reductions in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the future. On 5/07/21, 49,491 new infections occurred in the United States. There were also 770 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is decreasing, but 9,140  patients are still seriously or critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 692 in the last 14 days, while 9,836 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients is decreasing for the second 14 day period but a large number of patients are still dying each day. 

As of 5/07/21, we have had 594,911 deaths and 33,418,826 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 683,122 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding an average of 341,561 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in 10,000 to 20,000 deaths. On 5/07/21, twenty-two states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 32 states have had greater than 5,000 total deaths. Eight states (Geogia, illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 20,000 deaths. Four states (Florida, Texas, New York and California) have had greater than 35,000 deaths.

For comparison, on 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 5/07/21, in the United States, 10.04% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 5 months nearly 6% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

As of 5/07/21, California was still ranked 35th in infection percentage at 9.50%. In North Dakota 14.21% of the population was infected (ranked #1), while Rhode Island was at 14.11% (ranked #2) and South Dakota was at 13.93% of the population infected (ranked #3). Thirty states have greater than 10% of their population infected. Only one state has less than 3.5% of their population infected: Hawaii (2.30%). Fourteen states still have greater than 1,000 new infections per day with Florida leading again on 5/7/21 with 4,175 infections.

New Mutants

A new mutant SARS-CoV-2 virus (lineage B.1.1.7), first seen in the UK in September 2020, has now been found in multiple other countries. There are 3,170 reported cases in the USA as of 3/11/21, 8337 cases as of 3/25/21 and 20,915 cases as of 4/10/21 in the US. This isolate has now been found in 50 states and the District of Columbia. This isolate is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates. There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. A study published March 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the risk of death increased by 64% in patients infected with the B.1.1.7 variant compared to all other isolates. Due to air and other travel, this isolate will become the dominant isolate worldwide. 

On 4/10/21, the CDC stopped providing data to the public on the number of reported cases of all variants of SARS-CoV-2, both nationally and by state. This data used to be available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html. The CDC claims that the data is available in its COVID-19 Data Tracker, but only percentages, not actual case numbers, are available, and the data ends on April 10, 2021.   

Luckily, GISAID is still reporting variant data. The United States has had more isolations of B.1.1.7 in the last four weeks (15,909) than any other country in the world, to include the United Kingdom. There have been a total of 85,324 cases of B.1.1.7 identified in the US to date. (See chart below.)

At 197 cases, the United States has the fourth highest number of isolations of B.1.351 (the South African variant) in the last four weeks and a total of 1,161 isolations. 

And the United States has now surpassed Brazil for the most isolations of P.1 in the world, with 5,355 overall and 1,955 in the past four weeks. 

As for B.1.617, the variant recently identified in India, only India and the United Kingdom have more isolated cases than in the United States, which has 334 total cases, 197 of which were identified in the last four weeks. This also means that we had 137 known cases of this variant in the US more than a month ago, despite the fact that American news media and the CDC have only recently begun educating the public about this variant. 

A disturbing report out of the UK has found a second mutation in B.1.1.7. This mutation, which occurs in the loop sequence has also been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) variants. (The loop sequence is in the receptor binding motif in the receptor binding domain of the S1 sequence of the spike protein.) This mutation involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to lysine. This point mutation allows the virus to bind better to the ACE2 receptor, which increases infectivity. People who are exposed to one of these variants (versus the old B2 isolate) are more likely to be infected and are more likely to transmit the virus to others. 

In our last three updates we summarized a research letter published in Clinical Infectious Diseases about a patient in the UK who was first infected in April with a B2 isolate and experienced only mild symptoms but was infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant in December and became critically ill. The patient described in this research letter was not protected by a natural infection with a B2 lineage SARS-CoV-2 isolate in April 2020 from having a potentially lethal second infection with a B.1.1.7 lineage variant in December 2020, suggesting that folks who have had a past SARS-CoV-2 infection should not expect to have any immunity to new variants such as B.1.1.7. All of the currently available vaccines were developed with spike protein from B2 lineages. Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca/Oxford are currently remaking their spike protein vaccines to address the mutations in the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine did not work in a small trial in South Africa, where most of the patients had the South African mutant (B.1.351). 

A California Mutant

A fourth mutant isolate of SARS-CoV-2, B.1.429 + B.1.427 (CAL.20C), is the predominant mutation identified in California. This isolate does not have any of the mutations mentioned above, but contains five mutations, three of which are in the spike protein, but not in the receptor binding motif. This mutant may be partially responsible for the massive increase in infections in California, to include infections of people who had already recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection earlier. In California to date, we have had 3,756,393 infections and 62,220 total deaths. California is averaging 58 deaths per day in the last 14 days, which is a 22 deaths per day decrease from the preceding 14 day period. Currently, 9.50% of the population in California is infected. Nationally, we rank 35th in the percentage of people in the state infected. To my knowledge, only one privately held company is currently modifying their vaccine to cover the B.1.429 + B.1.427 mutant. 

New Indian Mutant B.1.617 Arrives in California

Stanford University announced three weeks ago that they have identified five infections with the Maharashtra India VOC 32421 (new variant designation B.1.617) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two additional isolates were PCR positive and pending sequencing. This isolate is a double-mutant responsible for greater than 40% of the infections in India.  In the last 14 day update India had had 2,080,793 new infections in the  7 days prior which was a 58% change in the number of infections from the preceding 7 days (1,318,900 infections). Indian had reported the three highest numbers of new infections per day at 349,165 on 3/24/21, 345,147 on 2/23/21, and 332,503 new infections on 4/22/21. India is the only country to report over a million infections in three days. The previous one day record was 302,000 infections in the United States. In India 13,876 new SARS-CoV-2 deaths had occurred in the last seven days compared to 7,206 deaths in  the preceding seven days. This was a 93% increase in the death rate in the last seven days. 

The data from India the last 14 days ending on 5/07/21 is even more disturbing. India has had 5,284,155 infections in the last 14 days with an average of 377,440 infections per day or 1,132,320 infections every three days. During this 14 day period India reported 48,716 deaths or 3,480 deaths per day. On May 7, 2021 India reported 401,326 new infections and 4,194 new deaths. On 5/7/21 the total deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 infections in India now stands at 238,265. India with a population of 1,390,456,911 has had only 1.57% of the country infected. Their hospitals are still running out of oxygen, medications, beds and ventilators. They had only been able to vaccinate approximately 140 million people.Sadly a health disaster is now occurring in the world’s most populous country. I would predict that prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in India or first generation SARS-CoV-2 vaccines will have little effect on this mutant discussed in the next paragraph. 

Many of you may now be familiar with the E484K mutation present in the South African isolate, the Brazilian isolate, the New York isolate (B.1.256), and the new Nigerian/UK double mutant. When vaccine manufacturers make booster vaccines to address these variants, they will only account for the E484K mutation. What sets this Maharashtra India B.1.617 variant apart from the other variants is that it has a different point mutation at amino acid 484 that involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to glutamine (E484Q). This point mutation, like E484K, probably allows the virus to bind to the ACE2 receptor and evade neutralizing antibodies directed against the original Wuhan sequence. A vaccine created to address E484K would not address this isolate. 

The second mutation in Maharashtra India VOC B1.617 is L452R, which is one of the same mutations seen in CAL.20C (B.1.429 + B.1.427). This mutation is also not being covered by any vaccine currently being made as a booster. It’s possible that people in California who were infected by the Cal.20C mutant in the last six months might have some cross protective antibodies to B.1.617.

Watching the Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC.

LocationTotal Infections as of 5/07/21New Infections on 5/7/21Total DeathsNew Deaths on 5/07/21% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World157,526,509836,0313,283,26013,7412.02%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.526 (USA-NYC)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421Maharashtra India VOC B.1.617 BV-1 (Texas, USA)NoNo
USA33,418,826
(ranked #1)
49,491
(ranked #3)
594,911
(ranked #1)
79010.04%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.526 (USA-NYC)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)Maharashtra India VOC B.1.617BV-1 (Texas, USA)NoNo
Brazil15,078,360(ranked #3)   78,377(ranked #2) 401,326(ranked #2)2,2177.05%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)NoNo
India21,886,612(ranked #2)401,326(ranked #1)238,265(ranked #3)4,1941.57%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOC 32421Maharashtra India VOC B.1.617NoNo
United Kingdom4,431,043(ranked #7)2,490127,598156.49%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)Maharashtra India VOC B.1.617NoNo
California, USA3,756,393(ranked #9 in world)2,16662,220489.50%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.2 (Brazil)Maharashtra India VOC 32421NoNo
Mexico2,358,831(ranked #15)2,846218,173(ranked #4)1661.81%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)NoNo
South Africa1,592,326(ranked #20)1,95654,687672.65%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)NoNo
Canada1,273,169(ranked #22)7,84924,529403.54%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)*P.1 (Brazil)Yes, except Alberta ProvinceNo
Poland2,824,431(ranked #13)6,05369,4451667.46%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)NoNo
Turkey4,998,089(ranked #5)20,10742,4652785.87%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)NoNo
*Also referred to as CAL.20C

The Road Ahead

We are on Day 108 of the Biden-Harris administration.The President has made the pandemic a first priority and has now ordered enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccination by July 2021. As of 5/7/21, 149.5 million people have had one dose of any vaccine. 8.6 million have had a single-dose vaccine (J&J). 108.9 million people are fully vaccinated. Therefore, 32 million people still need a second dose of either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine. 

As of April 16, all people in the U.S. over the age of 16 are eligible to receive a vaccine. The Biden administration has already exceeded its goal of administering 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days of the administration. Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency use authorization to administer their mRNA vaccines to children aged 12-15, and the FDA is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for this age group next week. Testing is ongoing for children in younger age groups and may be approved for ages 2-11 by September 2021. 

Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully. In the United States, Hawaii is doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. These interventions and vaccination should keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health care delivery system. New mutations like B.1.429 + B.1.427 (Cal.20C) and the UK, Brazillian, South African, and Indian variants will probably spread rapidly throughout the United States over the next 90 days as several states (including Texas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi) open up everything and do away with masking and social distancing. We will probably see increased new infections per day in the United States. In the UK, B.1.1.7, has increased the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. This and other mutants may do the same thing in the USA.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination adenovirus vaccine are all being used to immunize people in the USA. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Novavax vaccine may be available in the second or third quarter of 2021. 

The bad news is that all currently available vaccines are based on the Chinese spike protein sequence from December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce new vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance at least every 4 to 6 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. A surrogate marker of protection like antibody to the mutated Receptor Binding Domains of SARS-CoV-2 should be considered for vaccine approval. 

I still feel the current approach of companies and governments of making new vaccines against just the South African variant is wrong. In Brazil, where the P.1 isolate is dominant, they’ve had another 849,250 infections and 32,770 deaths in just the last 14 days. In the last 42 days in Brazil 2,762,595 infections have occurred and 115,667 deaths. In South Africa, the total number of infections during the pandemic is 1,592,326 and a total of 54,687 deaths. Brazil had more infections and deaths in one month than South Africa has had for the entire pandemic. It makes no sense to make a vaccine based on just the South African mutant and not make one for the Brazilian P.1 mutant. Even worse is the current situation with the Indian SARS-CoV-2 VOC B.1.617. In the last 14 days India has had 5,284,155 new infections and 48,716 deaths. If India shuts down, among other things the generic drug industry could fail.

The ideal approach to these spreading major mutations on at least five continents would be to make vaccines against each of the mutations. I’d get all of the vaccine companies and contract production companies on a call and “suggest” that two companies at least make and mass produce one of the four mutations. The government would pay the cost and buy at least 200 million doses in advance for each variant at say $40 a dose. The total cost to purchase the vaccine (800 million doses) would only be 32 billion dollars. Give each company a billion dollars each for development costs (another 8 billion dollars). Spend another two billion dollars for syringes and you’ve got enough booster doses to vaccinate 200 million people for all 4 variants. 42 billion dollars would be a small price to pay to catch up with the current mutations. Even if you had to do this every two years, it would be well worth the dollars spent. 

We are not doing adequate numbers of PCR or antigen detection assays in the United States. According to JHU, in January of 2021, we were doing up to 2,307,949 tests per day. In March 2021, the highest number of tests per day was 1,709,210, and in April, the highest number of tests per day was 2,008,319. Currently, we’re doing 1,260,357 tests per day (7-day moving average); that’s 747,962 fewer tests than the April high. 

We still need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we are finally preparing to make more vaccine, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, essential workers and especially teachers and students. I’m still hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s infectious disease problems. 

What Our Team Is Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations and projections for infections and deaths from SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make our projections of future total infections and deaths since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the fourth time in a 14-day period. There were 133 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has increased by 11,210 infections per day. This increase in infections over the last four 14-day periods is secondary to SARS CoV-2 mutants, to include the B.1.1.7 (UK isolate), a New York isolate B.1.526, the CAL.20C isolate, the South African isolate and the Brazilian isolates. I would predict that the opening of schools, places of worship, bars, restaurants, indoor dining and travel all will contribute to further spread of multiple SARS-CoV-2 mutants and rising numbers  in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months. Increased traveling over Easter and Spring break as well as upgoing Memorial Day weekend, summer vacations and the July 4th holiday will all cause further increases. Vaccinations, increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden 100-day SARS-CoV-2 plan (day 80 of plan) will be necessary to stop spread of mutants and cause  reductions in infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the future. On 4/09/21, 85,638 new infections occurred in the United States. There were also 929 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is increasing, and only 9,078  patients are critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has increased by 468 in the last 14 days, while 13,006 new deaths occurred. The number of critically ill patients is increasing and a large number of patients are still dying each day. 

As of 4/09/21, we have had 574,840 deaths and 31,802,772 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 949,742 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding 474,871 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in at least 20,000 deaths. On 4/9/21, twenty-one states had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 32 states had greater than 5,000 total deaths. 

For comparison, on 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 4/09/21, in the United States, 9.60% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the last 5 months nearly 6% of our country became infected with SARS-CoV-2. 

As of 4/09/21, California was ranked 33rd in infection percentage at 9.34%. In North Dakota 13.71% of the population was infected (ranked #1) and in South Dakota 13.50% of the population was infected (ranked #2). Thirty-five states have greater than 9% of their population infected and 45 states have greater than 6% infected. Only one state has less than 3% of their population infected: Hawaii (2.15%). 

New Mutants

A new mutant SARS-CoV-2 virus (lineage B.1.1.7), first seen in the UK in September, has now been found in multiple other countries. There are 3,170 reported cases in the USA as of 3/11/21. As of 3/25/21 there are 8,337 reported cases in the USA. This isolate has now been found in 50 states and the District of Columbia. This isolate (let’s call it Lineage B.1.1.7 or SARS-CoV-2 UK) is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates. There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. A study published March 10 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that the risk of death increased by 64% in patients infected with the B.1.1.7 variant compared to all other isolates. Due to air and other travel, this isolate will become the dominant isolate worldwide. 

As of 3/11/21 B.1.351, also known as the South African isolate, had 108 reported cases and has occurred in 23 states and the District of Columbia. As of 3/25/21 there are 266 reported cases in 29 states and the District of Columbia. On 3/11/21 the P.1 isolate (Brazil) had 17 reported cases and has been found in 10 states. As of 3/25/21 there were 79 P1 isolates in 11 states. (This data is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html)

A disturbing report out of the UK has found a second mutation in B.1.1.7. This mutation, which occurs in the loop sequence has also been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) variants. (The loop sequence is in the receptor binding motif in the receptor binding domain of the S1 sequence of the spike protein.) This mutation involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to lysine. This point mutation allows the virus to bind better to the ACE2 receptor, which increases infectivity. People who are exposed to one of these variants (versus the old B2 isolate) are more likely to be infected and are more likely to transmit the virus to others. 

In our last three updates we summarized a research letter published in Clinical Infectious Diseases about a patient in the UK who was first infected in April with a B2 isolate and experienced only mild symptoms but was infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant in December and became critically ill. The patient described in this research letter was not protected by a natural infection with a B2 lineage SARS-CoV-2 isolate in April 2020 from having a potentially lethal second infection with a B.1.1.7 lineage variant in December 2020, suggesting that folks who have had a past SARS-CoV-2 infection should not expect to have any immunity to new variants such as B.1.1.7. All of the currently available vaccines were developed with spike protein from B2 lineages. Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca/Oxford are currently remaking their spike protein vaccines to address the mutations in the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine did not work in a small trial in South Africa, where most of the patients had the South African mutant (B.1.351). 

A California Mutant

A fourth mutant isolate of SARS-CoV-2, B.1.429 + B.1.427 (CAL.20C), has been identified in California. This isolate does not have any of the mutations mentioned above, but contains five mutations, three of which are in the spike protein, but not in the receptor binding motif. This mutant may be partially responsible for the massive increase in infections in California, to include infections of people who had already recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection earlier. In California to date, we have had 3,618,594 infections and 55,455 total deaths. California is averaging 249 deaths per day in the last 14 days. Currently, 9.15% of the population in California is infected. Nationally, we rank 29th in the percentage of people in the state infected. To my knowledge, only one privately held company is currently modifying their vaccine to cover the B.1.429 + B.1.427 mutant. 

New Mutants Arrive in California

Stanford University announced this week that they have identified five infections with the Maharashtra India VOC 32421 (yet to be named) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two additional isolates are PCR positive and pending sequencing. This isolate is a double-mutant responsible for up to 40% of the infections in India. 

Many readers may now be familiar with the E484K mutation present in the South African isolate, the Brazilian isolate, the New York isolate (B.1.256), and the new Nigerian/UK double mutant. When vaccine manufacturers make booster vaccines to address these variants, they will only account for the E484K mutation. What sets this VOC from India apart from the other variants is that it has a different point mutation at 484 that involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to glutamine (E484Q). This point mutation, like E484K, probably allows the virus to bind to the ACE2 receptor and evade neutralizing antibodies directed against the original Wuhan sequence. A vaccine created to address E484K would not address this isolate. 

The second mutation in Maharashtra India VOC 32421 is L452R, which is one of the same mutations seen in CAL.20C (B.1.429 + B.1.427). This mutation is also not being covered by any vaccine currently being made as a booster. 

In India on 4/9/21, 144,829 new infections and 773 deaths occurred. India now has the third-highest number of infections in the world (13,202,783) and the fourth-highest number of deaths (168,467). India has a population of 1,390,456,911. At the present time, only 0.94% of the country has been infected with SARS-CoV-2. International travel and trade will continue to spread this highly infectious isolate to other parts of the world. This infection has now landed in California, our most-populous state. 

Watching the Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. Data on infections, deaths, and percent of population infected was compiled from Worldometers. Data for this table for SARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in Location was compiled from GISAID and the CDC. It’s worth noting that GISAID provided more data than the CDC. 

LocationTotal Infections as of 4/9/21New Infections on 4/9/21Total DeathsNew Deaths on 4/9/21% of Pop.InfectedSARS-CoV-2 Isolates Currently Known in LocationNational/ State Mask Mandate?Currently in Lockdown?
World135,290,124786,147*2,927,75013,3171.73%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.526 (USA-NYC)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)A lineage isolateV01.V2 (Tanzania)APTK India VOC 32421Maharashtra India VOC 32421NoNo
USA31,802,772
(ranked #1)
85,638
(ranked #3)
574,840
(ranked #1)
9299.56%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.526 (USA-NYC)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)Maharashtra India VOC 32421NoNo
Brazil13,375,414(ranked #2)   89,090(ranked #2) 348,934(ranked #2)3,6476.25%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)P.1 (Brazil)P.2 (Brazil)NoNo
India13,202,783(ranked #3)144,829(ranked #1)168,467(ranked #4)7730.94%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)APTK India VOC 32421Maharashtra India VOC 32421NoNo
United Kingdom4,365,456(ranked #6)3,145127,040606.40%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)NoNo
California, USA3,694,147(ranked #9)3,60960,2821539.34%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.2 (Brazil)Maharashtra India VOC 32421NoNo
Mexico2,267,109(ranked #14)5,140206,146(ranked #3)5481.74%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)NoNo
South Africa1,556,242(ranked #20)1,26753,226532.50%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.351 (SA)NoNo
Canada1,045,278(ranked #23)9,25523,251402.59%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)Yes, except Alberta ProvinceNo
Poland2,528,042(ranked #11)28,52328,5237686.40%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)NoNo
Turkey3,745,657(ranked #7)55,79133,45425314.40%B2 lineageB.1.1.7 (UK)B.1.525 (Nigeria/UK)B.1.351 (SA)B.1.429 + B.1.427 (USA)**P.1 (Brazil)NoNo

*This number is higher than it was 2 weeks ago. It was 630,055. 

**Also referred to as CAL.20C

SARS-CoV-2 and Children

I’m pleased to see that COVID-19 cases and MIS-C (PIMS) cases in children in the US are finally getting national attention. The CDC now tracks total MIS-C cases and deaths in children and young adults up to 20 years old in the United States. As of March 29, CDC reported 3,185 cases of MIS-C that meet the case definition and 33 deaths—that’s 568 new cases and 3 new deaths since the March 1 report. The CDC notes, “As of October 1, the number of cases meeting the case definition for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States surpassed 1,000. As of February 1, this number surpassed 2,000, and exceeded 3,000 as of April 1.” This means it took seven months to reach 1,000 MIS-C cases, only four months to reach additional 1,000 cases, and only two months to add additional 1,185 cases. This suggests to us that B.1.1.7 is causing more MIS-C. 

Schools in the United States have been open throughout the pandemic, with teachers and education support professionals demonstrating their extraordinary ability to adapt in adverse circumstances. Teachers all over the country reinvented their teaching, taking their classrooms online in order to provide safe and remote learning experiences for students. The so-called “reopening” of schools, which more accurately refers to the opening of school buildings, as schools never closed, has been highly politicized, with many governors issuing mandates for in-person instruction, even as case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in their states rose exponentially. The CDC has maintained that transmission risk in schools is minimal, provided that adequate safety measures are taken; however, we know that many states have not properly enforced universal masking (and some are repealing mask mandates this week), and we know that many school facilities are not equipped with the proper air handling systems. With more school buildings opening, there is a growing body of research that suggests that COVID-19 transmission can and does happen in schools. 

After recommending for months that school buildings be open, in mid-February (a year into the pandemic), The American Academy of Pediatrics, in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Association, finally began tracking data on COVID-19 in children at the state and national level. Data reporting by states is still voluntary, and every state is different in its willingness to collect and disclose data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and testing rates in children. 

As of the APA’s April 1 report, only 11 states provide age distribution for testing. This makes it difficult to hold states accountable for testing each age group in proportion to its population. We’ve seen a trend in states where testing data with age distribution is available that children are tested at lower rates than adults. Hospitalization data by age group is only available in 24 states and New York City, so we only understand the severity of COVID-19 infections in children for about half the country. Age distribution for cases is provided by 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It’s worth noting that New York State does not provide age data for cases, testing, hospitalizations, and deaths. Two states, Florida and Utah, only report cases in children aged 0-14, so the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in children ages 15-17 is unknown in these states. 

As of April 1, A total of 284 child deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in 43 states (an increase of 16 child deaths since March 18). In the United States, The following states do not report child mortality due to COVID-19: Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Texas only reports age data for 3% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, so state-level data from Texas is extremely limited for assessing the incidence of COVID-19 in children. Even considering this, Texas reported 49 (+2) child deaths. Arizona reported 26 (+2), California 16 (+1), Colorado 12, Georgia 10, Illinois 17 (+1) , Maryland 10, Tennessee 11, and New York City 22 (+1). 

The United Kingdom tracks hospitalizations by age group, and with the increased incidence of B.1.1.7 saw the number of child hospitalizations double from November 2020 to January 2021. This data likely influenced the decision to close school buildings and go into total lockdown there on January 4, 2021. If we truly want to keep children safe, especially as many school buildings open for in-person instruction, we need to collect more complete data in every state on child testing rates, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The Road Ahead

We are just on Day 80 of the Biden-Harris administration.The President has made the pandemic a first priority and has now ordered enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccination by July 2021. We have been averaging 3 million vaccinations a day for the last seven days after having opened mass vaccination sites in multiple cities and states. To date, 178,837,781 doses of vaccine have been administered. As of 4/9/21, in the U.S., 68,202,458 people are fully vaccinated, which accounts for 20.5% of the population. On April 16, all people in the U.S. over the age of 16 will be eligible to receive a vaccine. The Biden administration is on track to exceed its goal of administering 200 million doses of vaccine in the first 100 days of the administration. Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency use authorization to administer their mRNA vaccines to children aged 12-16. Testing is ongoing for children in younger age groups. 

Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully. In the United States, Hawaii is doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. These interventions with vaccination should keep the pandemic from overwhelming our health care delivery system. New mutations like B.1.429 + B.1.427 (Cal.20C) and the UK, Brazillian, South African, and Indian variants will probably spread rapidly throughout the United States over the next 90 days as several states (including Texas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi) open up everything and do away with masking and social distancing. We are seeing an increase of 11,000 new infections per day in the United States, compared to an increase of only 9 new infections per day two weeks ago. In the UK, B.1.1.7, has increased the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. This and other mutants may be doing the same thing in the USA.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines and the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccination adenovirus vaccine are all being used to immunize people in the USA. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Novavax vaccine should also be available in the second quarter of 2021. 

The bad news is that all currently available vaccines are based on the Chinese spike protein sequence from December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce new vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance at least every 4 to 6 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. A surrogate marker of protection like antibody to the mutated Receptor Binding Domains of SARS-CoV-2 should be considered for vaccine approval. 

I still feel the current approach of companies and governments of making new vaccines against just the South African variant is wrong. In Brazil, where the P.1 isolate is dominant, they’ve had 1,050,649 infections and 45,208 deaths in the last 14 days. In South Africa, the total number of infections ever is 1,556,242, and they’ve had 53,226 deaths. Brazil is on track to have more infections and deaths in the next month than South Africa has had for the entire pandemic. It makes no sense to make a vaccine based on the South African mutant and not make one for the Brazilian P.1 mutant. 

The ideal approach to these spreading major mutations on at least five continents would be to make vaccines against each of the mutations. I’d get all of the vaccine companies and contract production companies on a call and “suggest” that two companies at least make and mass produce each of the four mutations. The government would pay the cost and buy at least 200 million doses in advance for each variant at say $40 a dose. The total cost to purchase the vaccine (800 million doses) would only be 32 billion dollars. Give each company a billion dollars each for development costs (another 8 billion dollars). Spend another two billion dollars for syringes and you’ve got enough booster doses to vaccinate 200 million people for all 4 variants. 42 billion dollars would be a small price to pay to catch up with the current mutations. Even if you had to do this every two years, it would be well worth the dollars spent. 

We are not doing adequate numbers of PCR or antigen detection assays in the United States. According to JHU, in January of 2021, we were doing up to 2,307,949 tests per day. In March 2021 so far, the highest number of tests per day has been 1,709,210, so we’re doing nearly 600,000 fewer tests per day. We still need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we are finally preparing to make more vaccine, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, essential workers and especially teachers and students. I’m still hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s infectious disease problems. 

What We’re Reading This Week

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations and projections for infections and deaths from SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the WORLDOMETERS aggregators data set to make our projections of future total infections and deaths since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have decreased for the first time since the last 14-day period. There were 382 fewer deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has decreased by 61,644 infections per day. This decrease in infections over the last two 14-day periods may represent increased mask usage and social distancing, which are a part of the Biden 100-day SARS-CoV-2 plan. On 2/12/21, 100,288 new infections occurred in the United States. There were also 2,908 deaths. The number of hospitalized patients is decreasing, and only 19,927 patients are critically ill. The number of critically ill patients has decreased by 4,561 in the last 14 days, while 40,216 new deaths occurred. This suggests that the number of critically ill patients is decreasing because a large number of patients are dying. 

As of 2/12/21, we have had 492,521 deaths and 28,106,704 SARS-CoV-2 infections in the United States. We have had 1,545,917 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding 772,958 infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in at least 20,000 deaths. On 2/12/21, eighteen states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 28 states had greater than 5,000 total deaths. 

On 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 2/12/21, in the United States 8.46% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 25th in infection percentage at 8.74%. In North Dakota 12.92% of the population was infected (ranked #1) and in South Dakota 12.44% of the population was infected (ranked #2). Ten states have greater than 10% of their population infected: North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Arizona, Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Rhode Island. Only six states have less than 6% of their population infected: New Hampshire (5.51%), Washington (4.33%), Oregon (3.54%), Maine (3.14%), Vermont (2.15%), and Hawaii (1.88%). 

New Mutants

A new mutant SARS-CoV-2 virus (lineage B.1.1.7), first seen in the UK in September, has now been found in multiple other countries. There are 981 reported cases in the US as of 2/11/21. This isolate has now been found in over 37 states. This isolate (let’s call it Lineage B.1.1.7 or SARS-CoV-2 UK) is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates (probably 30 to 40% increased infectivity). There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. Due to air and other travel, this isolate will become the dominant isolate worldwide. 

B.1.351, also known as the South African isolate, has 13 reported cases and has occurred in 5 states: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and California. The P.1 isolate (Brazil) has 3 reported cases and has been found in Minnesota and Oklahoma. (This data is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant-cases.html.)

A new, disturbing report out of the UK has found a second mutation in B.1.1.7. This mutation, which occurs in the loop sequence has also been found in the South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) variants. (The loop sequence is in the receptor binding motif in the receptor binding domain of the S1 sequence of the spike protein.) This mutation involves a change of one amino acid of the spike protein, number 484, from glutamic acid to lysine. This point mutation allows the virus to bind better to the ACE2 receptor, which increases infectivity. People who are exposed to one of these variants (verus the old B2 isolate) are more likely to be infected and are more likely to transmit the virus to others. 

In our last update we summarized a research letter published in Clinical Infectious Diseases about a patient in the UK who was first infected in April with a B2 isolate and experienced only mild symptoms but was infected with the new B.1.1.7 variant in December and became critically ill. The patient described in this research letter was not protected by a natural infection with a B2 lineage SARS-CoV-2 isolate in April 2020 from having a potentially lethal second infection with a B.1.1.7 lineage variant in December 2020, suggesting that folks who have had a past SARS-CoV-2 infection should not expect to have any immunity to new variants such as B.1.1.7. All of the currently available vaccines were developed with spike protein from B2 lineages. Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca/Oxford are currently remaking their spike protein vaccines to address the mutations in the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine did not work in a small trial in South Africa, where most of the patients had the South African mutant (B.1.351). 

A California Mutant

A fourth mutant isolate (CAL.20C) of SARS-CoV-2 has been identified in California. This isolate does not have any of the mutations mentioned above, but contains five mutations, three of which are in the spike protein, but not in the receptor binding motif. This mutant appears to be responsible for the massive increase in infections in California, to include infections of people who had already recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection earlier. In California, we have had 3,457,214 infections, 46,379 total deaths, and 6,533 deaths in the last 14 days. California is averaging 466 deaths per day in the last 14 days. Currently, 8.3% of the population in California is infected. Nationally, we rank 25th in the percentage of people in the state infected. To my knowledge, no company is currently modifying their vaccines to cover the CAL.20C (California) mutant. 

Watching the Data

Over the next few months, we’ll be paying close attention to correlations between the SARS-CoV-2 data, the number of isolates identified in various countries and states, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (like mask mandates and lockdowns) put in place by state and national governments. 

The Road Ahead

We have a new President and Vice President. The President has made the pandemic a first priority. Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully.  In the United States, Vermont and Hawaii are doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. The pandemic problem is overwhelming our health care delivery system in many states.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines are both now approved in the USA. The Johnson & Johnson and Novavax vaccines are pending approval. To vaccinate 80% of our population with two doses of vaccine, we will need over 500 million doses of vaccine. The current goal of the Biden administration in the US is to vaccinate one million people each day for 100 days. At this rate, to vaccinate 280 million people it would take 280 days—more than 9 months. The good news is this week, on one day, 2 million vaccinations occurred. If this pace were to continue we could vaccinate everyone who wanted a vaccine in the USA in less than five months.

All current vaccines are based on the Chinese spike protein sequence from December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance every 6 to 8 months. The FDA is currently putting together a guidance document for how to develop booster vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 mutations. We need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m more hopeful that we will have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. As a nation we are finally preparing to make more vaccine, new vaccines directed against mutants, and the necessary rapid tests and protective equipment needed by medical staff, first responders, and especially teachers and students. I’m hopeful we can work together on our and the world’s problems.

COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Update

It’s time for our next 14-day moving average determinations and projections for infections and deaths from SARS-CoV-2 for the United States and my thoughts on vaccines and mutant viruses. We use the Worldometer aggregators data set to make our projections of future total infections and deaths since it includes data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Military, federal prisons and the Navajo Nation.

14-day Moving Averages of SARS-CoV-2  Deaths and Infections in USA

1/15/211/01/2112/18/2012/04/2011/21/2011/07/2010/24/2010/10/209/26/209/12/208/28/208/14/207/31/207/17/20
Deaths/day3,163*2,4622,5101,7771,2868917547287878239631,0501,070714
Infections/Day248,131**186,106216,750173,513154,94590,07559,15545,24640,65739,95143,88454,59766,74861,512
*701 more deaths per day than the 14-day period ending in 1/1/21 **62,025 more infections per day than the 14-day period ending in 1/1/21

In the United States, SARS-CoV-2 deaths have increased for the first time since the last 14-day period. There were 701 more deaths per day than in the last 14-day period. In the last 14 days, the number of infections has increased by 62,024 infections per day.  This increase in infections over the last two-week period is due to two major holidays. On 1/15/21, 248,080 new infections occurred in the United States. There were also 3,805 deaths. Over 130,000 people are hospitalized in the USA and 28,937 serious or critically ill patients are in our hospitals as of 1/15/21.

As of 1/15/21, we have had 401,856 deaths and 24,102,429 SARS CoV-2 infections in the United States.  We have had 3,473,834 new infections in the last 14 days. We are adding  over 1.7 million infections every 7 days. Each million infections usually results in at least 20,000 deaths. On 1/15/21, fifteen states have had greater than 500,000 total infections, and 26 states had greater than 5,000 total deaths. 

On 11/20/20 in the United States, 3.70% of the population had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 41st in infection percentage at 2.77%. In North Dakota 9.18% of the population was infected (ranked #1), and in South Dakota 8.03% of the population was infected (ranked #2).

As of 1/15/21, in the United States 7.28% of the population has had a documented SARS-CoV-2 infection. California was ranked 26th in infection percentage at 7.40%. In North Dakota 12.54% of the population was infected (ranked #1) and in South Dakota 11.86% of the population was infected (ranked #2). Thirty-six states already have greater than 6% of their population infected (North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Utah, Montana, Illinois, Idaho, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas, Indiana, Arkansas, Nevada, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Texas, Connecticut, North Carolina, Colorado, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware and Kentucky). 

A new mutant SARS-CoV-2 virus (lineage B.1.1.7), first seen in the UK in September, has now been found in multiple other countries. In California, two patients in LA county and three patients in San Diego county are infected with this new mutant. Two patients in Colorado and one in Florida have also been identified as of 12/31/20. As of 1/15/21, this new mutant has been found in nine other states (New York, Georgia, Texas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Utah, Maryland, and Wisconsin. This isolate (let’s call it Lineage B.1.1.7 or SARS-CoV-2 UK) is more infectious than other previously circulating B2 lineage isolates (probably 30 to 40% increased infectivity). There are two deletions and six other mutations in its spike protein. One mutation involves a change of one amino acid, an asparagine at position 501 in the receptor binding motif with a tyrosine. This enhances binding (affinity) to the ACE-2 receptor and may alone be responsible for the increased infectivity of this isolate. Due to air and other travel this isolate should become the dominant isolate worldwide.  

In a research letter pending publication in Clinical Infectious Diseases, a group of NHS doctors describe the case of a patient who was first infected with SARS-CoV-2 in April and became reinfected in December. After the patient’s second infection, Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) was performed on samples from both instances of infection, and it was determined that the first infection in April was with a B.2 lineage variant and the second infection was with the new B.1.1.7 variant. While the patient, “a 78 year old man with a history of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, diabetic nephropathy on haemodialysis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), mixed central and obstructive sleep apnoea, ischaemic heart disease, with no history of immunosuppression” had only had a mild illness (fever being the only symptom) during the first infection, during the second infection, he had much more severe symptoms, including shortness of breath and hypoxia, which led to emergency intubation. He developed “Severe Covid-19 pneumonia complicated by mycocardial infarction with resulting trifascicular block and Atrio-Ventricular (AV) dissociation and pulmonary oedema.” (To read the full research letter, visit https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciab014/6076528 and click PDF.)

The patient described in this research letter was not protected by a natural infection with a B2 lineage SARS-CoV-2 isolate in April 2020 from having a potentially lethal second infection with a B.1.1.7 lineage variant in December 2020, suggesting that folks who have had a past SARS-CoV-2 infection should not expect to have any immunity to new variants such as B.1.1.7. All of the currently available vaccines were developed with spike protein from B2 lineages, so it remains to be seen whether these vaccines will protect against B.1.1.7 infections or the additional isolates discussed below.

A second mutation in the loop sequence has been identified in the South African, Brazilian, and Japanese isolates this week. This mutation will also enhance binding to the ACE-2 receptor and may interfere with binding of monoclonal antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding motif. If this rate of mutations and deletions continues in the spike protein, especially in the receptor binding domain and motif, in my opinion, then vaccine reformulation will be required in 2021.

We have a new President-elect and Vice President-elect, now confirmed by the electoral college and approved in the House and Senate on 1/06/21 despite a riot and invasion of the Capital by President Trump’s supporters. The President-elect has made the pandemic a first priority after Inauguration on January 20, 2021. Testing, wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands frequently should no longer be political issues. These are non-pharmaceutical interventions used by most successful countries and some states to protect their citizens and their economies. New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia are three countries that have done this successfully.  In the United States, Maine, Vermont, and Hawaii are doing a better job handling the pandemic than many of our states. The pandemic problem is overwhelming our health care delivery system in many states. Unless things change before Inauguration Day on January 20, 2020 (5 days away) we could, by our predictions, have an additional 1,221,405 SARS-CoV-2 infections and another 15,815 deaths. Our infections per day and deaths per day will continue to increase for at least another 8 to 12 weeks.

The Pfizer and Moderna RNA vaccines are both now approved in the USA. To vaccinate 80% of our population with two doses of vaccine, we will need over 500 million doses of vaccine. Unless we start vaccine shipments to clinics and physicians’ offices, not just hospitals and pharmacies, I doubt most people will be able to receive any vaccine until April 2021.  

All current vaccines are based on the Chinese spike protein sequence from December 2019. Mutated isolates, as discussed above, may overtake our ability to produce vaccines and vaccinate the populace. Like Influenza vaccines, we may have to reformulate vaccines based on active, worldwide surveillance every 8 to 12 months. We need to perform more virus isolations and perform more DNA sequencing of viruses in each country, state, populous city, and county if we are to rapidly identify new mutations. I’m not sure we have the facilities, the equipment, and the trained staff needed to perform this work. I feel we are not prepared (or preparing) to do this and will suffer the consequences if we continue down our current path. “Magical thinking” will not solve these problems, just laborious work by many people. Are we all up to the tasks at hand?