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Coronavirus update: Mitigation efforts blunt childhood diseases, new cases near pandemic low

Businesses are still struggling to staff up

Photo (c) portishead1 - Getty Images
Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 33,266,191 (33,192,974)

Total U.S. deaths: 594,603 (592,432)

Total global cases: 170,800,205 (168,520,476) 

Total global deaths: 3,551,771 (3,500,945)

In COVID-19 era, childhood diseases on the decline

Masks, social distancing, and hand-washing prescribed during the COVID-19 pandemic kept cases of the flu at bay in 2020. Health officials say the flu season was nearly non-existent. 

It apparently had much the same effect on common childhood diseases. The Wall Street Journal reports that there were fewer reported cases of chickenpox, stomach viruses, and strep throat over the last 12 months.

“We’ve seen a dramatic decline in the numbers,” Rana El Feghaly, a pediatrician and director of clinical services at Children’s Mercy Hospital, told the Journal “All the peaks that we expected in the winter of this year, we haven’t seen any of those.”

U.S. cases near pandemic low

Americans celebrated Memorial Day weekend by going to the movies, going out to eat, and hitting the beach. The crowd for the Indianapolis 500 -- 135,000 -- was the largest to witness a living sporting event in more than a year.

The numbers tell the story. The COVID-19 Tracking Project at Johns Hopkins University shows that the seven-day average of new cases is around 12,000 -- the lowest number since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Health experts are quick to point out that people who have not been vaccinated are still at risk from the virus. In most states, they are still being asked to wear masks when in public places.

Businesses face pandemic-related difficulty in staffing up

It’s not just the service industry that is having trouble finding employees. A new survey from the Manpower Group finds that high-skill jobs in a number of industries are going unfilled, and the roots of the problem stretch back to the beginning of the pandemic.

Sixty-nine percent of employers globally report struggling to find workers with the right blend of technical skills and human strengths, including accountability, reliability, discipline, resilience, stress tolerance, and adaptability. 

One lasting effect of the pandemic may be an acceleration of digitization by these firms. The survey shows that more than one in three organizations have already headed down that road, and 86% of those companies plan to increase the process.

‘Breakthrough’ cases of the virus appear to be rare

Clinical trials of all three vaccines used in the U.S. showed that they were highly effective at preventing COVID-19. Data compiled on real-world experience shows the same thing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “breakthrough” cases, where someone who is vaccinated becomes infected, appear to be rarer than what the trials indicated.

By late April, about 101 million Americans had been fully vaccinated. Among them, there were only 10,262 cases, a much better protection rate than found during the trials. Of those who became infected, fewer than 10% were admitted to a hospital.

Penn researchers discover potential treatment

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) say they have discovered an existing drug could play a role in preventing severe cases of COVID-19. They say the drug diABZI activates the body’s innate immune response, suggesting that it could also treat other respiratory coronaviruses.

“Few drugs have been identified as game-changers in blocking SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said Penn Professor and Senior Author Sara Cherry. “This paper is the first to show that activating an early immune response therapeutically with a single dose is a promising strategy for controlling the virus.”

The study also showed that the drug is effective at neutralizing the variants, which are highly contagious. Cherry said the discovery is important since antiviral treatments will be needed as long as COVID-19 is still around.

Around the nation

  • Texas: At the height of the pandemic, it was Texas’ border towns and cities that suffered the most cases. Now, health officials say these same areas lead the state in the pace of vaccinations. Of the 39 Texas counties currently above the state average for vaccinations, more than a third of them are border counties.

  • Massachusetts: The state’s mask mandate ended over the weekend, but WCVB-TV reported that nearly as many people were still wearing masks as not wearing one. "Still a little bit uncomfortable not wearing it," one person told the station. "It feels a bit odd, and I think I'll be wearing it for the foreseeable future."

  • Iowa: Iowa has joined the list of states that appear to be leaving COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. The state reported 42 new positive COVID-19 tests Monday and no additional deaths. Hospitalizations are at their lowest point since early April 2020.

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