Former federal regulator Scott Gottlieb stated on Monday that the new Delta strain of COVID-19 that has been increasing cases of the illness in the United States could end up hitting its peak in the next two to three weeks, noting a current downward trend of infections happening in the United Kingdom.
“If the U.K. is turning the corner, it’s a pretty good indication that maybe we’re further into this than we think and maybe we’re two or three weeks away from starting to see our own plateau here in the United States,” Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner under former President Donald Trump, went on to say.
The delta variant in the U.K. caused a spike in new cases starting in early June. The outbreak has recently sharply declined. While the seven-day average number of cases on July 21 exceeded 47,000, the updated weekly average number of new cases on Sunday fell to about 37,700, according to the New York Times.
Virologists have looked to the U.K. over the past year for clues about how mutated strains of the virus will affect the U.S. For instance, the alpha strain that contributed to a surge in the U.S. was first discovered in southern England in September 2020 and became the dominant strain in the U.S. by April 2021.
“If we’re already seeing healthcare systems get saturated in certain states like Florida, against the backdrop of a lot of the vulnerable populations being vaccinated … it’s a pretty good indication there’s a lot of infection underneath those hospitalizations that we’re just not detecting as taking place in the younger population that isn’t getting as sick,” Gottlieb added on Monday.
Nearly 80% of all seniors, deemed the most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19, have been fully vaccinated, according to federal data. Younger people are more prone to getting infected with the delta strain because far fewer have been fully vaccinated. A changing COVID-19 testing landscape would also contribute to the underreporting of cases, Gottlieb said. People who have been confirmed positive using at-home tests are less likely to report results to federal authorities.
“Our ascertainment, the percentage of people who are presenting for testing and actually getting recorded, is actually quite low right now. So this infectious wave must be far more pervasive than what we’re detecting, which means we’re further into it than what we believed,” Gottlieb continued.
As of this writing, almost 69 percent of adults in the United States have had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, while 60 percent have received both doses. Federal regulators are beginning to debate whether or not they should encourage booster shots as more concern builds that the delta variant might work around some of the protections provided by the vaccines.
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