COVID

‘We have a window here,’ Ashish Jha says of falling COVID-19 cases in ‘race’ against virus variants

“There is zero justification for states not vaccinating around the clock."

Dr. Ashish Jha. Elise Amendola / AP

Dr. Ashish Jha said the United States is facing a crucial opportunity in the race to vaccinate as many people as possible before variants of COVID-19 become widespread. 

The dean of the Brown University School of Public Health wrote on Twitter Saturday that he sees the falling trend of COVID-19 cases in the country in the last two weeks as more than just a “blip.”

“I think there is something good going on,” he said. 

Jha said he believes the downward slope of cases is different from previous drops, pointing to the decline from a peak reached on Jan. 11 and adding that the national changes do not appear to be the result of the trends occurring in the biggest states, or less testing. 

The current trend is a “big deal,” the doctor said, though he said it isn’t fully clear on why cases are trending in the right direction. 

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“In some places, it’s clearly policy restrictions,” Jha said. “Other places, based on Google mobility data, it looks like people have pulled back activity a lot after holidays.”

The trend doesn’t mean the peak seen earlier in the month is permanent either, he said. 

“If UK and other variants weren’t in the picture, I would expect that our peak was behind us with vaccine roll out,” Jha wrote. “But UK variant is circulating here, and this downturn could be temporary if variant takes off. We will see new, even bigger spikes.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting the more contagious variant, first detected in the United Kingdom and known as B.1.1.7.,  will become the dominant source of new COVID-19 infections in the United States in March. 

Standard public health measures will help prevent spikes from the variant, Jha wrote, but he also urged that officials should also take advantage of the current downward trend in cases to get ahead of the virus variant’s spread.

“We have a window here,” he wrote. “Things are getting better. Gains are very very fragile. There is zero justification for states not vaccinating around the clock. We are in a race against the variant(s). Better masks will help. Vaccinations are the name of the game at this moment.”

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On Monday, Moderna announced the vaccine it developed appears to trigger an immune response in laboratory tests that protected against two variants of COVID-19 — the ones first detected in Britain and South Africa. The company is also launching two new studies to continue to examine the issue.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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