Mike Pence says US on 'far side' of Covid-19 pandemic even as WHO warns of second peak if nations are careless
As the US inches closer to the grim landmark of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths, Vice President Mike Pence said that the country has seen real progress and that it is on the far side of the coronavirus pandemic in many places.
“More than 98,000 Americans have lost their lives, our hearts are with their families on this Memorial Day as well. But I think we also do well to reflect on the fact that because the American people embraced the president’s leadership, listened to state and local authorities, tens of thousands of families have been spared the heartache of that loss. We have seen real progress all across the country. Hospitalizations are declining, we have seen a steady decline in cases, new cases across the country. Most importantly, fatalities continue to decline,” Pence told ‘Fox & Friends’ on May 25.
“We are on the far side of this epidemic in many of the places most impacted. That’s given us an opportunity not just to issue, as we did now more than a month ago, the guidelines to open up America again, but the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the (US coronavirus) task force will continue to produce useful information about how we can bring back our schools, how we can bring back summer camps, how we can go back to churches, synagogues, and mosques, and enjoy safely and responsibly our freedoms of religions,” he said.
Currently, all US states have started the process of reopening. Pence said that while there may be instances where people would do well to be reminded about the importance of social distancing and the importance of continuing regular hygiene, both President Donald Trump and he are very confident that as these restrictions are loosened in the days ahead, the American people will step forward and “put this country back to work in a safe and responsible way.”
During a briefing on May 23, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr Deborah Birx said that Covid-19 mortality is decreasing over time in the US. “The other thing that has decreased significantly over the last month is new hospitalizations. We can see now that there’s over a 50% decline in new hospitalizations. Although every region of the country is different, we are encouraged to see these new hospitalizations declining,” said Dr Birx. However, she said that cases are also going up in many places. Maryland, the District, and Virginia are states with a high number of positive cases. This is followed by Nebraska and Illinois. “The number one metro with the highest positivity rate is the District of Columbia, which includes Northern Virginia and Maryland, Montgomery County and PG County. That is followed by Baltimore, Chicago, and Minneapolis. And so these are the places where we have seen an increase of cases,” said Dr Birx.
A recent report said that the coronavirus pandemic is not under control in much of the US, and 24 states still have a reproduction number above the critical threshold of one, meaning that each coronavirus patient is infecting more than one person. Any reproduction rate above one means the virus spreads exponentially. The analysis by Imperial College London also found that increased mobility following the relaxation of social distancing rules could lead to the doubling of Covid-19 deaths over the next two months. As of May 26, over 1,662,760 coronavirus cases have been reported from across the US, and more than 98,220 have died in the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins.
Covid-19 can jump up at any time, warns WHO
Meanwhile, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director, World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme, has cautioned that the world is in the middle of the first wave and that countries could see the second peak of coronavirus cases in this wave itself if they let up too soon on measures to halt the outbreak.
“Right now, we are not in the second wave, we are right in the middle of the first wave globally. In many countries, we are very much in a phase where the disease is on the way up. The actual number of people who have been infected in each country remains relatively low. When we speak about a second wave classically, what we often mean is that there will be a first wave, the disease by itself effectively goes to a very low level, and then it curls a number of months later, and that may be a reality for many countries in a number of months' time,” said Dr Ryan during a briefing.
Dr Ryan emphasized that countries need to be also cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. “We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now, it is going to keep going down, and we are going to get several months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave. This happened during pandemics in the past, and it certainly happened for the Spanish flu pandemic. We got a second peak, not necessarily a second wave,” he said.
Accordingly, said the WHO experts, right now, countries in Europe, North America, many other countries around the world in South-East Asia, have to continue to put in place public health and social measures, surveillance measures, testing measures and a comprehensive strategy to ensure that they continue on a downward trajectory and that there is no immediate second peak. “We will then have to look later in the year whether or not there is a possibility of a second wave of infections coming. And that’s particularly of concern when we look at the possibility of having a second wave of infections that may be also associated with the influenza season, which will greatly complicate things for disease control,” said Dr Ryan.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, also said that all countries need to remain on high alert. “All countries need to be ready to rapidly detect cases, even countries that have had success in suppression. Even countries that have seen a decline in cases must remain ready,” she said. Dr Kerkhove said studies indicate that a large proportion of the population remains susceptible, and that means the virus will start an outbreak if given the opportunity. “A hallmark of coronaviruses is its ability to amplify in certain settings, its ability to cause transmission, or super spreading events. And we are seeing in a number of situations in these closed settings when the virus has an opportunity, it can transmit readily,” she said. Dr Kerkhove said that countries must remain vigilant, and have systems in place to readily detect those cases, care for those cases, as well as find, trace, and quarantine contacts.