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 (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?