‘None of us has a crystal ball’: Scientists try to keep up with faster coronavirus evolution.
The rapid evolution of the coronavirus into an alphabet soup of subvariants presents a vexing challenge to health officials: They must make far-reaching policy decisions based on little biological certainty of which viral variants will be dominant this fall or winter.
The Food and Drug Administration said at the end of June that it would update coronavirus vaccines for a booster campaign in the fall targeting highly contagious Omicron subvariants. But the ground is shifting beneath its feet.
In just eight weeks, the BA.5 subvariant has gone from a blip in U.S. case counts to the dominant subvariant in the country, now making up more than three-quarters of new cases. Perhaps the most transmissible subvariant yet, it is pushing up positive tests, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions across the country,
There is no evidence that BA.5 causes more severe disease, but the latest metrics certainly bust the myth that the virus will become milder as it evolves.
“None of us has a crystal ball, and we are trying to use every last ounce of what we can from predictive modeling and from the data that we have to try to get ahead of a virus that has been very crafty,” said Dr. Peter Marks, a top vaccine regulator at the F.D.A., after an advisory committee recommended that the agency prioritize vaccines specific to the Omicron subvariants. “For something that’s only nanometers in size, it’s pretty darn crafty. We’re trying to make our best judgment here.”
Local officials in the southern Chinese metropolis of Guangzhou have issued a rare apology after community workers broke into dozens of homes to look for people who had tested positive for the coronavirus and others deemed close contacts, triggering harsh criticism on social media.
The government of the city’s Liwan district said in a statement that the workers picked locks to enter 84 units in an apartment complex. They had been searching for residents they believed were hiding to avoid being sent to quarantine centers. Under China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid, all positive cases and close contacts must be sent to centralized quarantine facilities for a number of days.
Photos on social media showed broken locks in front of apartment doors, and the government said the locks were later replaced. It added that the head of the neighborhood had apologized to the residents individually and had promised unspecified compensation.
The government also said the incident was “deeply distressing” and that it was investigating the incident and would punish whoever was deemed responsible.
Guangzhou has reported fewer than 10 locally transmitted cases over the past week. On Wednesday, China reported 906 new locally transmitted cases, mostly in the northwestern province of Gansu and the southern region of Guangxi.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended that a newly authorized vaccine from Novavax be used as an option for adults seeking a primary immunization against the coronavirus.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C.’s director, signed off on the recommendation of a panel of vaccine experts that had unanimously endorsed the vaccine on Tuesday afternoon. The decision removes the final regulatory hurdle for the fourth Covid-19 shot authorized in the United States.
The Novavax vaccine is expected to play a limited role in the country’s immunization campaign, at least initially. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized it as a primary immunization for adults, but has not yet considered it for a booster shot.
Novavax, a Maryland pharmaceutical company, received significant federal funding to develop its shot but fell far behind in the vaccine race. Even so, it is hoping the shot will appeal to Americans who have so far declined to be vaccinated.
Somewhere between 26 and 37 million adults in the United States have not yet received a coronavirus vaccine, according to survey data presented at the meeting by Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra of the C.D.C.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has ended its Covid-19 mitigation program for cruise ships in U.S. waters, the public health agency announced on its website.
Cruise lines participating in the voluntary program, which ended Monday, had followed the agency’s policies for coronavirus testing and reporting the vaccination status of passengers and crew, as well as providing regular updates about coronavirus case counts. Using that data, a dashboard on the C.D.C.’s website displayed color-coded ratings based on the number of reported virus cases on a given ship.
That information is no longer publicly available. Passengers will now have to contact cruise lines directly to learn about ongoing outbreaks and virus mitigation policies aboard ships.
The C.D.C. has “determined that the cruise industry has access to the necessary tools,” including vaccinations and testing, to prevent and manage coronavirus transmission, said Jasmine Reed, an agency spokeswoman.
Cruise travelers also have other information at their disposal to make travel decisions, the agency said.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chairman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and will not appear in person at what could be the committee’s last hearing of the summer.
But the absence of Mr. Thompson, who said he would isolate for several days as he recovers from mild symptoms, is not expected to affect plans for a prime time hearing on Thursday. A committee spokesman, Tim Mulvey, said Mr. Thompson instructed the panel to move forward with its schedule after he tested positive on Monday.
“While Chairman Thompson is disappointed with his Covid diagnosis, he has instructed the select committee to proceed with Thursday evening’s hearing,” Mr. Mulvey said. “Committee members and staff wish the chairman a speedy recovery.”
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Thompson would appear virtually, as lawmakers have for other congressional hearings since the start of the pandemic.
In a statement, Mr. Thompson said that he is fully vaccinated and boosted, and encouraged his constituents to receive the vaccine and take precautions against the coronavirus.
The pandemic’s devastating impact on drug overdose deaths in the United States hit people of color the hardest, with rates among young Black people rising the most sharply, according to a federal report that was released on Tuesday and that analyzed overdose data by race, age and income.
Overall, overdose deaths jumped 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Deaths among Black people rose 44 percent, about twice the increase in deaths among white people (22 percent) or Hispanic people (21 percent). Deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives increased 39 percent.
Measured as a portion of the population, in 2020, deaths among Black people were higher than in any other racial or ethnic group — 39 per 100,000, compared with 31 for white people, 36 for American Indian and Alaska Native people and 21 for Hispanic people.
“The disproportionate increase in overdose death rates among Blacks and American Indian and Alaska Native people may partly be due to health inequities, like unequal access to substance use treatment and treatment biases,” said Dr. Debra Houry, acting principal deputy director of the C.D.C.
The racial breakouts were based on data from Washington, D.C., and 25 states that had completed analyses. The study included data from some states where overdose death rates rose, such as Georgia, Kentucky and Maine, but not from others with high rates, like Florida, New York and Michigan. C.D.C. researchers said that, nonetheless, the trends they saw in this data mirrored statistical racial breakouts across the country."