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COVID-19 cases continue to swell throughout the Americas

Too many countries have downgraded their health protection measures, like social distancing, too quickly.

Numerous European nations have scrapped mask-wearing rules even as Covid cases have surged
Numerous European nations have scrapped mask-wearing rules even as Covid cases have surged - Copyright TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP Johan NILSSON
Numerous European nations have scrapped mask-wearing rules even as Covid cases have surged - Copyright TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP Johan NILSSON

As COVID cases continue to rise in the Americas (at over 20 percent per week), the Pan American Health Organization PAHO Director (Carissa F. Etienne) urges countries to “take stock of the numbers and act”. Action is necessary in order to bring the transmission rate down.

In terms of the worst affected area, this is North America, where cases have been climbing for seven weeks. This is being driven by a surge in the U.S. In turn, this has influenced case numbers in Central America. Here, COVID-19 cases have increased by 80 percent,.

With the virus “not going away any time soon” (as per the health expert), impacted nations needed to bolster testing and surveillance. As well as using such health data to make policy recommendations for their citizens, nations must also ensure that vaccines get to where they are needed the most.

Each of these measures is necessary to avoid overwhelming local health systems, where hospital beds are in short supply. COVID-19 testing rates in particular have shown a stark decline, which began in January 2022. This has reduced the availability of key epidemiological data. 

The scale of the problem is captured by Etienne, who notes: “Last week, our region reported more than 918,000 cases. COVID-19 hospitalizations increased in 18 countries, and admissions to Intensive Care Units rose in 13 countries and territories.”

One of the reasons for the upturn relates to countries downgrading their health protection measures, like social distancing, too quickly. There has also been a relaxation in mask wearing.

However, the biggest risk factor is with vaccination rates. Only 14 of the 51 countries and territories in the Americas have reached the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of 70 percent vaccination coverage, far too many people remain unprotected.

Low vaccination coverage includes many of those within the population who are at risk of severe disease. This includes the elderly, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing health conditions.

This leads Etienne to say: “Each country is only as protected as the most vulnerable in their population.”

Another area of focus is with maintaining a sufficient infrastructure to cope with the current health emergency, such as continuing investments in Intensive Care Units and with boosting hospital capacity.

Such measures are doubly important for ensuring that the Americas can deal more robustly with a future health emergency.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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