NEW YORK (AP) – As the number of coronavirus infections in some parts of the world grows, experts are watching for a potential new outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States – and wondering how long it will take to detect.
Despite improvements in disease monitoring over the past two years, some recent developments do not bode well:
—As more and more people take rapid tests on COVID-19 at home, fewer people pass the gold standards tests that the government is counting on to count cases.
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will soon use fewer laboratories to find new options.
– Health officials are increasingly paying attention to this admission to the hospitalwhich grow only after a spike occurs.
—The sewage monitoring program is still a multi-layered charge, which can not be relied on to obtain the data needed to understand future jumps.
– White House officials say the government is running out of funds for vaccines, treatment and testing.
“We’re not in a very good situation,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a pandemic researcher at Brown University.
Scientists acknowledge that the widespread availability of vaccines and treatments puts the nation in a better position than when the pandemic began, and that monitoring has come a long way.
For example, this week, scientists advertised a 6-month program that tests international travelers flying to four U.S. airports. Genetic study of the sample on December 14 turned out a variant of the coronavirus – a descendant of omicron, known as BA.2 – seven days earlier than any other detection in the United States
More good news: cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the US are declining in a matter of weeks.
But elsewhere everything is different. The World Health Organization this week reported that the number of new coronavirus cases has increased two weeks in a row in the world, probably because COVID-19 prevention measures have been discontinued in many countries and because BA.2 is spreading more easily.
Some health experts aren’t sure what that means for the US
BA.2 accounts for a growing share of cases in the United States, according to the CDC – more than one-third nationally and more than half in the northeast. A small increase in the total number of cases was noted in New York and in New England hospitals.
However, some of the northern U.S. states with the highest BA.2 rates have some of the lowest rates, said Catriona Shea of Penn State University.
Dr James Musser, an infectious disease specialist from the Houston Methodist, called the national BA.2 data “murky”. He added: “We really need as much real-time data … to make decisions.”
That’s what COVID-19 trackers look like and what scientists are worried about.
Counting test results has been the basis for understanding the spread of coronavirus from the beginning, but they have always been erroneous.
Initially, only patients were examined, which means that the number of cases missed people who had no symptoms or could not pass the smear.
Home test kits became widely available last year, and demand soared when the Omicron wave crashed. But many people who take tests at home do not tell anyone about the results. Also, health authorities are not trying to collect them.
Dream Aspinal is the managing director of an Arizona-based consulting firm that tracks testing trends on COVID-19. She estimated that in January and February, an average of 8 million to 9 million rapid home tests were performed each day, four to six times the number of PCR tests.
Nutso said: “The case numbers do not reflect reality as much as they used to.”
HUNTING FOR OPTIONS
In early 2021, the United States was far behind other countries use genetic tests to look for alarming viral mutations.
A year ago, the agency signed agreements with 10 major laboratories to perform this genomic sequencing. The CDC will cut this program to three labs over the next two months.
The weekly volume of contract sequences was much higher during the Omicron wave in December and January, when more people took the tests, and had already dropped to about 35,000. By the end of spring, it would drop to 10,000, though CDC officials say contracts allow you to increase the volume to more than 20,000 if necessary.
The agency also says the new contracts have improved turnaround times and quality standards, and that it does not expect the change to damage its ability to find new options.
External experts have expressed concern.
“This is a really significant reduction in our baseline surveillance and intelligence system to track what’s out there,” said Bronwyn McKinnis, director of pathogen genome surveillance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard.
SEWERAGE OF SEWERAGE
The evolving monitoring system looks for signs of coronavirus in wastewater that could potentially detect brewing infections.
Researchers linked sewage samples to a number of positive tests for COVID-19 a week later, suggesting that health officials may see trends in infection early.
Some health departments have also used wastewater to find options. For example, New York found omicron variants in a sample taken Nov. 21, about 10 days before the first case was reported in the United States.
But experts note that the system does not cover the whole country. It also does not distinguish who is infected.
“Without a doubt, this is a really important and promising strategy. But the ultimate value is probably still to be understood, ”said Dr. Jeff Duchin, a health worker for Seattle / King, Washington.
Last month, the CDC outlined a new set of measures to decide to repeal the rules of wearing masks, focusing less on positive test results and more on hospitals.
Admission to the hospital is a lagging figure, given that a week or more may pass between infection and hospitalization. But a number of researchers believe the changes are appropriate. They say hospital data is more reliable and easier to interpret than case counting.
The lag is also not as long as one might think. Some studies show that many people expect to be screened. And when they finally do, the results aren’t always instant.
Spencer Fox, a scientist at the University of Texas who is part of a group that uses hospitals and cell phones to predict COVID-19 for Austin, said “hospital admission was a better signal” for the surge than test results.
However, there are concerns about future hospital data.
If the federal government repeals its declaration of public health emergencies, officials will lose the ability to force hospitals to report data on COVID-19, a group of former CDC directors recently written. They called on Congress to pass a law that would provide lasting power “so that we do not risk going blind when a health threat arises.”