Good morning. This is Jonathan Spira reporting. Here now the news of the pandemic from across the globe on the 1,018th day of the pandemic.
It isn’t a good time to be sick right now.
In the Northern Hemisphere, people are forced together indoors by both weather and custom through the holidays and in January return to work and school. Respiratory illnesses explode and emergency rooms fill up. Many emergency-room doctors will tell you that the first months of any given year are the worst.
In addition, fewer pandemic-related precautions and new subvariants have driven a rise in Covid cases but boosters, masks, and other precautions are still effective, if they are followed.
For a variety of reasons, many people are contracting respiratory illnesses and finding themselves in emergency rooms for treatment, where the wait time to see a nurse let alone a doctor could be longer than a flight from New York to Singapore. These patients are colliding with those who avoided medical care fearing the coronavirus, and now can no longer wait for delayed operations or treatments.
The emergency rooms I’ve been privy to recently have been piled high with patients. Doctors are examining ER patients in waiting rooms, hallways, and temporary treatment areas – which include tents, parking lots, and lobbies – all because patients who should have been transferred to a hospital bed upstairs are in the ER for days waiting for a bed to open up.
In recent days I’ve spoken to multiple emergency-room physicians to better understand the situation.
Here’s what they said about what one termed “this most unusual time in medicine.”
“We are sad. Sad for our patients and sad for our colleagues,” one told me. “ER wait times are at record highs and we are all trying our best to do the thing that we love to do, which is to care for our patients.”
Several report that they are seeing SARS-CoV-2 cases as well as the flu but the majority of patients are coming in with a variety of other ills. RSV started with a vengeance but is not currently a factor here. There are many reasons for this: Some people have put off seeing doctors or having procedures during the pandemic, which resulted in a worsening of their condition, triggering a visit to the ER.
“Wait times are at an all-time high,” one doctor said plainly.
I discussed with them what the remainder of the patients are there for and the answer may surprise you.
“Many doctor’s offices are referring [patients] to the ER as they have marginally lost care capacity,” an ER doctor in the Mid-Atlantic region said. At the same time, “many hospitals have lost workers at all levels that have transitioned to non-healthcare related careers.”
Thousands of people in the medical field have experienced significant burnout in the course of the first three years of the pandemic. The first year was the most harrowing but the hectic pace of the pandemic hasn’t relented.
And that’s why it’s a particularly bad time to get sick, have a heart attack, or need emergency care.
In other news we cover today, the FDA plans to simplify its Covid vaccine strategy and former White House Pandemic Coordinator Jeffrey Zients will reportedly be named President Biden’s new chief of staff.
Jeff Zients, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator until this past April, is expected to replace Ron Klain, President Biden’s chief of staff, who is planning to step down in the coming weeks.
Zients left the White House after directing the Biden administration’s pandemic response after the resignation of Deborah Birx at the end of Donald Trump’s term in office, and led the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. He then returned to the White House in the fall to help Klain prepare for expected staff turnover after the midterm elections. He is a former management consultant who worked at Mercer Management Consulting and Bain & Co.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is planning a shift in its coronavirus vaccine policy to simplify matters. Under the new plan, most individuals would be given the latest version of the vaccine each fall similar to the way that the flu vaccine is distributed. People wouldn’t have to worry about how many shots they’ve already been inoculated with and which they received when. Some people – young children and older adults – would still need to get two doses initially but would receive the most current formulation for all jabs.
Hong Kong’s Covid taxi service came to an end last week. The service had begun during the city’s fifth and most deadly coronavirus wave early last year. The government used a fleet of taxis to provide free rides for patients who were going to public clinics for SARS-CoV-2 related appointments.
The number of taxis in the program reached 900 at its high point before shrinking as new case figures fell. The service officially shut down on January 13, 2023.
Workers in the United Kingdom didn’t rush back to the office as pandemic case figures fell and restrictions ended, but they are increasingly returning to the workplace due to the cold weather. Cash-strapped Brits are commuting to work in order to save on heating bills as energy costs skyrocket there.
Finally, Australia’s medical regulator gave a provisional green light to the first coronavirus booster shot that targets two omicron sublineages, BA.4 and BA.5.
Now here are the daily statistics for Monday, January 23.
As of Monday morning, the world has recorded 673.4 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.15 million cases, and over 6.75 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 645.3 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.5 million.
The reader should note that infrequent reporting from some sources may appear as spikes in new case figures or death tolls.
Worldwide, the number of active coronavirus cases as of Monday at press time is 21,372,772, a decrease of 349,000. Out of that figure, 99.8%, or 21,328,354, are considered mild, and 0.2%, or 44,418, are listed as critical. The percentage of cases considered critical has not changed over the past 24 hours.
The United States reported 4,953 new coronavirus infections on Monday for the previous day, compared to 2,473 on Sunday, 82,833 on Saturday, 67,629 on Friday, and 144,535 on Thursday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 7-day incidence rate is now 52,914. Figures for the weekend (reported the following day) are typically 30% to 60% of those posted on weekdays due to a lower number of tests being conducted.
The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 47,290, a figure down 28% over the past 14 days, based on data from the Department of Health and Human Services, among other sources. The average daily death toll over the same period is 489, a decrease of 4% over the same period, while the average number of hospitalizations for the period was 37,474, a decrease of 22%. In addition, the number of patients in ICUs was 4,791, a decrease of 16% and the test positivity rate is now 11%, a 23% decrease.
In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Monday, recorded over 103.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of just under 1.13 million. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, just under 44.7 million, and a reported death toll of 530,735.
The newest data from Russia’s Rosstat state statistics service showed that, at the end of July, the number of Covid or Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic there in April 2020 is now 823,623, giving the country the world’s second highest pandemic-related death toll, behind the United States. Rosstat reported that 3,284 people died from the coronavirus or related causes in July, down from 5,023 in June, 7,008 in May and 11,583 in April.
Meanwhile, France is the country with the third highest number of cases, with 39.5 million, and Germany is in the number four slot, with over 37.6 million total cases.
Brazil, which has recorded the third highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 696,323, has recorded over 36.7 million cases, placing it in the number five slot.
The other five countries with total case figures over the 20 million mark are Japan, with 32.1 million cases, South Korea, with 30 million cases, placing it in the number seven slot, and Italy, with 25.4 million, as number eight, as well as the United Kingdom, with 24.3 million, and Russia, with 21.9 million.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of the past Thursday, 268.8 million people in the United States – or 81% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 69.1%, or 229.5 million people, have received two doses of vaccine, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 667.8 million. Breaking this down further, 91.9% of the population over the age of 18 – or 237.3 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 78.9% of the same group – or 203.6 million people – is fully vaccinated. In addition, 18.5% of the same population, or over 47.9 million people, has already received an updated or bivalent booster dose of vaccine.
Starting on June 13, 2022, the CDC began to update vaccine data on a weekly basis and publish the updated information on Thursdays by 8 p.m. EDT, a statement on the agency’s website said.
Some 69.3% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine by Monday, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information. So far, 13.23 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis and 2 million doses are now administered each day.
Meanwhile, only 26% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 75% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Only a handful of the world’s poorest countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia and Nepal – have reached the 70% mark in vaccinations. Many countries, however, are under 20% and, in countries such as Haiti, Senegal, and Tanzania, for example, vaccination rates remain at or below 10%.
In addition, with the start of vaccinations in North Korea in late September, Eritrea remains the only country in the world that has not administered vaccines.
Paul Riegler contributed reporting to this story.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)