This Is When We'll See a "Sharp Jump" in COVID Cases, Virus Expert Warns
Cases appear to be falling, but one expert warns that the reality is worse than it looks.
The U.S. has experienced several waves of the COVID pandemic over the last two years. These past few months have been particularly up and down, with cases rising over the summer due to the Delta variant and slowing vaccination rates, then falling as summer ended, and finally rising again in time for the fall and winter holidays. Despite concerns of a new wave with a new variant, cases in the U.S. seem to be falling again. According to The New York Times, COVID infections in the country have dropped 4 percent in the last two weeks. But the news may not be as good as it seems: Some experts are warning that the current data does not paint an accurate picture of the ongoing pandemic.
Ashish K. Jha, MD, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a series of tweets on Nov. 29 that the country's current drop in cases is not because fewer infections are occurring right now. Instead, Jha explained that this is a common pattern after holidays. "It's what we see during every holiday: drops in cases due to drops in testings. And it's a problem," he tweeted.
Jha added that some of the drop can be explained by officials lagging on reporting cases due to the holiday, but most of it is people not getting tested—even if they're sick. "A lot of it is sick people not getting tested. That's a problem because with less testing, more infected people are spreading to others," he tweeted. "And what we've seen? Bigger the drop during the holiday, bigger the bounce that follows."
According to the virus expert, the U.S. has seen a 25 percent drop in cases overall this Thanksgiving holiday, which is much larger than what we saw last Thanksgiving. With that in mind, Jha said we should expect to see more COVID cases popping up soon, with some being old cases that are a part of the reporting catchup but a "large chunk" being new infections.
"We should expert a sharp jump in reported infections later this week," he tweeted. "So don't be surprised if cases jump above 100k/day and deaths [over] 1k/day."
Many health officials and virus experts have their worries set on the new Omicron variant, which could potentially spread more easily than previous variants and evade existing vaccines. It will take researchers weeks to determine how serious Omicron is, but according to Jha, that's all the more reason to remain focused on what we know is a problem right now.
"Whatever happens with Omicron, the variant killing Americans right now is Delta," Jha tweeted. "And we can stop it with vaccines, testing, [and] key public health measures."
During a Nov. 22 White House COVID Response Team press briefing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said that there were still about 47 million eligible U.S. adults and more than 12 million eligible teens that are still not fully vaccinated against COVID.
"Data … continue to show that unvaccinated people are six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated individuals," Walensky said during the briefing. "And most tragic are the vaccine-preventable deaths we are still seeing from this disease. Even in our updated data, unvaccinated people are at 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than people who are vaccinated."
The World Health Organization (WHO) also recently reiterated what Jha and Walensky have said, despite marking Omicron as a "variant of concern." "Over 99 percent of cases around the world are due to the Delta variant and more deaths are occurring in the unvaccinated," WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said Nov. 29 on an episode of CNBC's Squawk Box Asia. "I think that's our priority while we wait to find out more about [the Omicron] variant."