The global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 4 million Wednesday as the crisis increasingly becomes a race between the vaccine and highly contagious variants.
The tally of lives lost over the past year and a half, as compiled from official sources by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the number of people killed in battle in all of the world’s wars since 1982, according to estimates from the Peace Research Institute Oslo.
The toll is three times the number of people killed in traffic accidents around the globe every year. It is about equal to the population of Los Angeles or the nation of Georgia. It is equivalent to more than half of Hong Kong or close to 50% of New York City.
Even then, it is widely believed to be an undercount because of overlooked cases or deliberate concealment.
It comes as variants surge across the world, especially the delta variant, considered more infectious than the original strain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects the highly transmissible delta variant, first identified in India, is now the dominant strain in the U.S. The variant makes up 51.7% of all new infections, according to CDC data.
It’s not just a problem in the U.S. Germany’s disease control center on Wednesday announced the delta variant has become dominant in the country, nearly doubling within one week. A French government spokesperson said cases increased by 20% from last week because of the variant. And in the United Kingdom, where the variant has also been circulating, officials reported more than 30,000 daily infections for the first time since January.
NYC hosts parade for essential workers
New York City, once the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., threw a ticker tape parade in lower Manhattan on Wednesday to honor the “hometown heroes” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Essential workers from the city’s hospitals, emergency departments, schools and hospitality sector rode more than a dozen floats led by Queens nurse Sandra Lindsay, who was named grand marshal. She was the first person in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials.
“We’ve got a lot to appreciate, because we’re well underway in our recovery. We’ve got a lot to celebrate,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who rode on a parade float with hospital employees.
The celebration in New York, however, comes as top U.S. health officials warn residents about the spread of COVID-19 variants, particularly in areas with low vaccination rates.
Ohio’s Vax-a-Million drawing didn’t increase COVID-19 vaccination rates compared to other states, a new study found.
Ohio did see an initial boost in vaccinations after Gov. Mike DeWine’s May 12 vaccine lottery announcement, Boston University School of Medicine researchers acknowledged in a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But other states also saw an uptick in first shots among adults, which researchers suggest was a result of children age 12 to 15 becoming eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the same time.
DeWine’s office, however, disagreed with the authors’ findings and said the study was flawed. State data shows a 44% increase in first shots given to people age 16 and up in the first week after the announcement – including increases in groups that had been eligible for months – and a 15% increase in the second week.
The head of the World Health Organization in the Eastern Mediterranean said COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the region after two months of steady declines.
“As we continue into the summer months, we are concerned about another spike in cases due to variants of concern and increased international travel, combined with low protection of people due to limited vaccination uptake and inadequate adherence to prevention measures,” Regional Director Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari said in a statement Wednesday.
He said the highly transmissible delta variant, which has been detected in at least 98 countries, is contributing to the rise. Al-Mandhari said the region is also “far” from its goal of vaccinating at least 40% of the population of every country in the region by the end of the year.
The nation’s third-largest school district announced plans Wednesday to open three school-based vaccination sites to students and families next week and establish standing sites at schools across Chicago starting in September, prioritizing neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.
Chicago Public Schools serves more than 340,000 students, and approximately 78% of staff are fully or partially vaccinated, the district said, based on self-reported data. The district plans to offer full in-person instruction in the fall
Seventy-five members of the U.S. House signed a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday saying it’s past time to reopen the border with Canada.
In the letter, members from both parties asked Biden “to begin taking science-based, data-driven steps to safely reopen international travel” to the U.S., including allowing freer access to Canada.
Pressure has been building on Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reopen the world’s largest land border between two nations, which has been closed since last year to all but essential travel because of concerns over COVID-19. But the Biden administration is not expected to take another look at reopening the border until July 21.
Surging COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have hit a two-month high that almost guarantees the Japanese government will declare a new state of emergency to start next week and continue for the duration of the Tokyo Olympics.
The pandemic-delayed Olympics open in just over two weeks on July 23 and end on Aug. 8. The present quasi-state of emergency ends Sunday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with key ministers to discuss virus measures and reportedly is considering reinstating a state of emergency in the capital until Aug. 22.
A new state of emergency could lead to a ban even on local fans. That decision on fans is expected Friday when local organizers meet with the International Olympic Committee and others.
The delta variant has swept across the United States, becoming the predominant strain circulating in the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The CDC estimates delta represented about 51.7% of all new cases in late June and early July. Just six weeks earlier, in the middle of May, about 1 in 32 variant cases was delta, the CDC says.
The variant, first identified in India, has been blamed for a surge of cases in countries around the globe and led some areas to bring back some pandemic restrictions. Parts of Europe have reinstated travel quarantines and several Australian cities are in outbreak-sparked lockdowns.
– Mike Stucka
Several anti-mask protesters who disrupted a school district board meeting in Utah earlier this year are facing criminal charges, officials said.
About 30 to 40 protesters disrupted the May 4 meeting amid news that Utah public schools would require masks through the end of the school year. After board members abruptly ended the meeting, the parents remained on the district’s campus and police were called. Video of the meeting was shared widely on social media.
Eleven protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting a public meeting last week. Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley said police are still searching for another person who was accused of being involved in the confrontation.
With more than 605,000 dead of COVID-19 in the United States and nearly 4 million worldwide, thousands or more could be experiencing prolonged grief, the kind of mourning that experts say can prevent people from moving beyond a death and functioning normally again.
Natalia Skritskaya, an expert on grieving, said it’s too early to say whether prolonged grieving, also known as complicated grief, will be a major complication from the pandemic – it isn’t yet over, with thousands still dying daily worldwide, including hundreds in the United States. Many mourners have yet to pass the one-year anniversary of a loss, and few studies have been published so far on the psychiatric fallout, she said.
A study published in the fall predicted a likely increase in cases of prolonged grief linked to the pandemic. Skritskaya, a research scientist and clinical psychologist with the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University in New York, noted that prolonged grief can be treated with therapy in which participants talk through their experience and feelings.
A San Francisco Bay Area zoo is inoculating its big cats, bears and ferrets against the coronavirus as part of a national effort to protect animal species using an experimental vaccine.
Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the Oakland Zoo, said none of the animals has gotten the virus, but the zoo wanted to be proactive. The doses were donated and developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis in New Jersey. Tigers, black and grizzly bears, mountain lions and ferrets were the first to receive the first of two doses; next are primates and pigs.