U.S. Averaging 700K New COVID-19 Cases Daily as Deltacron Revealed

Covid Case Increase

The highly infectious Omicron variant is sweeping the world, driving increasing cases of COVID-19 and placing pressure on an already-beleaguered healthcare system. 

U.S. Averaging 700,000 New COVID-19 Cases Per Day

Per a USA Today analysis of Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. is reporting an average of more than 700,000 new COVID-19 cases per day. As of Saturday, January 8, 2022, there were 4.91 million cases, more cases in seven days than in April, May, June, and July 2021 combined. In comparison, at one period in June 2021, the U.S. average daily case reports were slightly over 11,000.

"I would not be surprised at all if we go over a million cases per day," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief medical adviser to President Biden.

The surging numbers are placing a lot of pressure on U.S. hospital systems. Some of it is timing. Winter is typically the busiest time of year for hospitalizations, particularly related to respiratory illnesses—severe influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, and others. In addition, as the pandemic enters its third year, U.S. healthcare systems and their staff have been under a state of emergency for most of it, and the toll is showing. Turnover in staffing is very high, and because the Omicron variant causes breakthrough infections in people who have been vaccinated, infected healthcare workers have been unable to work.

"In the last two years, I've never known as many colleagues who have COVID as I do now," said Amanda Bettencourt, the president-elect of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. "The staffing crisis is the worst it has been through the pandemic."

Cyprus Researcher I.D.s New Variant, Dubs it Deltacron

A researcher at the University of Cyprus identified a new strain of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, which appears to have mutations similar to the Delta and Omicron variants. Dr. Leondios Kostrikis, professor of biological sciences, has dubbed it "Deltacron." They have observed 25 cases of the virus, but have yet to determine what impact, if any, it will have. It appears to have Omicron-like genetic signatures within the genome of Delta.

"We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious or if it will prevail," Kostrikis told Sigma T.V. on Friday. Although only time will tell, he personally believes the highly contagious Omicron variant will displace it.

As Omicron data continues to come in, previous observations still appear true. Although extremely infectious, Omicron appears to cause milder symptoms than Delta and other variants of the disease. This may be due to Omicron's tendency to affect the upper respiratory system—the nose, mouth and throat, rather than the lungs. One of Omicron's most common early symptoms is a sore throat, followed by congestion, dry cough and lower back pain. It is a fast virus, with an average incubation time as short as three days.

The good news is that people who received at least two full doses of the vaccines appear to be protected from severe disease and death. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at data from 1,228,664 American adults who completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination. They found that adverse COVID-19 outcomes were rare, at 0.015%, and death was 0.003%.

CDC Responds to Communication Criticisms

The CDC has been criticized for inconsistent and poor public communication throughout much of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, January 7, the agency held a telebriefing, one of the first in months. A lot of the criticism has been focused on the lack of regular communication, but recently, it has also been called out for confusing guidance on isolation and quarantine guidance. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, at the Friday briefing, said the agency "had heard clearly over the last week that there was interest in hearing from us independently. This is hard and I am committed to continue to improve. I anticipate that this will be the first of many briefings, and I very much look forward to them."

Kids and COVID-19: Hospitalization Rates at the Highest Levels

Earlier strains of SARS-CoV-2 did not appear to affect children very much. With the highly infectious Omicron variant, hospitalization rates in children have hit their highest levels, although they are still lower compared to older populations. For example, according to CDC data, 4.3 per 100,000 children four years of age and younger were hospitalized in the final week of December 2021, compared to 14.7 per 100,000 in people 65 and older. The rate for children ages five to 17 is 1.1 per 100,000, and for adults 18 to 49, the rate is 4.2 per 100,000.

It's unclear if the pediatric hospitalizations are due to COVID-19 or if children were hospitalized for other reasons before testing positive for COVID-19. Everyone who is hospitalized for any reason is tested for COVID-19, and winter is typically the busiest period for pediatric hospitalizations due to other respiratory viruses.

Ocugen's COVID-19 Booster Demonstrates Robust Immune Responses

Malvern, Pa.-based Ocugen announced that its development partner, India's Bharat Biotech, published positive data from a Phase II trial of the vaccine candidate Covaxin in people ages 12 to 64 who received a booster dose six months after the second shot. It was published on the pre-print server, medRxiv. In addition to the strong antibody titers, they found that more than 75% of all participants had a detectible neutralizing antibody response six months after the second of their primary dose.

More than 180 million doses of Covaxin have been administered to adults outside the U.S. It has been granted emergency use authorization in 17 countries, with ongoing applications in 60 others. It is not authorized in the U.S.

Novartis Seeks Approval of Ensovibep to Treat COVID-19

Novartis indicated it is submitting an authorization request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its antiviral COVID-19 treatment ensovibep. It is developing the drug with Molecular Partners and plans to in-license the drug and exercise its option, paying $163 million to speed manufacturing and push through approvals. Novartis will then take over the development, manufacturing, distribution and commercialization of the drug. In a Phase II trial of 407 patients, the drug demonstrated a 78% decrease in hospitalizations or emergency visits associated with COVID-19. The drug is a multi-specific DARPin (Designed Ankyrin Repeat Protein) designed to block the receptor-binding domains of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

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