The United States has had more than 100 million officially diagnosed and reported Covid-19 cases this week, but the number of Americans who have actually had the virus since the pandemic began is likely more than double..
Covid-19 has easily infected more than 200 million people in the United States alone since the start of the pandemic – some people more than once. The virus continues to evolve into more transmissible variants that evade immunity from vaccination and previous infections, making transmission incredibly difficult to control as we enter the fourth year of the pandemic.
The United States officially recorded more than 100 million cases on Tuesday, just under a third of the total population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data is not perfect and likely a huge undercount of the true number of infections, scientists say. Although it counts people who have tested positive more than once or caught Covid multiple times, it does not capture the number of Covid patients who were asymptomatic and never tested or tested at home and does not have not reported.
Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC during the Obama administration, estimates that the reported data reflects less than half of the true total.
“There have been at least 200 million infections in the United States, so that’s a small portion of them,” Frieden said. “The question really is whether we will be better prepared for Covid and other health threats in the future, and the jury is still very out on that,” he said.
The CDC estimated last spring that nearly 187 million people in the United States had caught Covid at least once through February 2022, more than double the number of officially reported cases at the time. The estimate was based on a survey of commercial lab data that found about 58% of Americans had antibodies from Covid infection. The survey did not take into account reinfections or antibodies due to vaccination.
The CDC subsequently recorded more than 21 million confirmed cases from March to December 21 of this year, although this is an underestimate because people using rapid home tests are not included in the data. .
The more than 21 million additional confirmed cases on top of the CDC’s February estimate of about 187 million total infections gives a low estimate of more than 208 million infections since the start of the pandemic.
“It’s really hard to stop this virus, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve focused on hospitalizations and deaths and not just case counts,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist and director from the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health.
The United States has made significant progress since the darkest days of the pandemic. Deaths have fallen by about 90% from the pandemic peak in January 2021, when more than 3,000 people succumbed to the virus daily before widespread vaccination. Daily hospital admissions are down 77% from a peak of over 21,000 in January 2022 during the massive omicron surge.
Despite this progress, deaths and hospitalizations remain stubbornly high given the widespread availability of vaccines and treatments. Around 400 people are still dying from the virus every day and around 5,000 are admitted to hospital daily. The virus is still circulating at what would have been considered a high level at the start of the pandemic, with almost 70,000 confirmed cases reported per day on average, a significant undercount due to home testing.
More than a million people have died in the United States from Covid since the pandemic began, more than any other country in the world.
“I think people have toughened up on it,” Frieden said of the Covid toll. “Covid is a new bad thing in our environment, and it’s likely to be here for the long haul. We don’t know how it’s going to evolve, if it’s going to get less virulent, more virulent – years ago that get better and worse.”
White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is stepping down this month, said the United States can look ahead to the pandemic when Covid hospitalizations and deaths decline to a level similar to the burden of the flu.
For the first, the two viruses circulate simultaneously at high levels. From October to the first week of December, the flu killed 12,000 people while Covid claimed more than 27,000 during this period.
“We’re still in the middle of it — it’s not over,” Fauci told the “Conversations on Health Care” radio show in November. “Four hundred deaths a day is not an acceptable level. We want it to be much lower than that.”
Frieden said 95% of people who die from Covid are not up to date on their vaccines and 75% of people who would benefit from the antiviral Paxlovid do not receive it.
“We should celebrate these great tools that we have, but we’re not doing a good job of getting them into people and that would not only save lives but reduce the disruption caused by Covid,” he said.
Dr Ashish Jha, coordinator of the White House Covid task force, said people who are up to date on their vaccines and treated when they have a breakthrough infection are at almost no risk of dying from Covid at this time. stage of the pandemic. Jha called on older Americans in particular, who are more vulnerable to serious illnesses, to be bolstered so they are better protected during the holidays.
“There are still too many older Americans who haven’t updated their immunity and haven’t shielded themselves,” Jha told reporters at the White House last week.
Michael Osterholm, a leading epidemiologist, said new Covid variants will pose the biggest threat to US progress in 2023.
China eased its strict zero Covid policy, which aimed to crush virus outbreaks, in response to widespread social unrest over the fall. Infections are now skyrocketing in the country, raising fears that Covid now has even more room to mutate.
The virus has continued to mutate into ever more transmissible versions of omicron over the past year, as immunity to vaccination or previous infection has waned.
“We want to believe that after three years of activity, any immunity we should have acquired through vaccination or prior infection should protect us,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “But with waning immunity and variants – we can’t say that.”