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CDC expected to release data that informed reconsideration of face masks, says delta variant of COVID means the ‘war has changed’

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release data later Friday about the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 that informed its decision earlier this week to recommend that even vaccinated people resume wearing face masks in public settings in areas with high rates of transmission.

The report is based on a recent investigation of a coronavirus outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., the Associated Press reported, citing a federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the plan.

CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency had seen data that found fully vaccinated people who become infected have the same viral load as unvaccinated people and that they, too, can infect others.

See: CDC head takes to the airwaves to sell change on face masks, as delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreads to 132 countries

The document says health officials must “acknowledge the war has changed,” with delta rapidly spreading across the U.S. and rest of the world, according to the Washington Post, which obtained a copy.

Read: As COVID-19 cases surge and concerns about breakthrough infections grow, masks come back and anxiety kicks in

Walensky privately briefed members of Congress on Thursday, based on much of what was contained in the slides, according to a source quoted by the Post. The CDC declined to comment.

Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said on Twitter that some of the information was already known, but other parts were new and concerning.

Read: Pfizer says immunity drops to 83% within four months in people who got its COVID-19 shot, further bolstering the company case for a booster

As Watchter explained, the document shows data estimating an R0 of 5-9 for the delta strain, vs. 2-3 for the original SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The R number rates how COVID-19 or any disease can spread and represents how many people one sick person can pass the illness on to, on average.

“We’ve been estimating R0 of ~6 for delta, or ~2x as infectious as original. It may be a bit worse than that,” he said. The delta variant is “more transmissible” than MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu and smallpox, and is caught as easy as chickenpox, the document shows.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The document acknowledges that vaccine breakthrough cases “may reduce public confidence in vaccines,” and is causing communication challenges for public health officials. Among those, the “public is convinced vaccines no longer work/booster doses needed,” therefore officials must “update communications describing breakthrough cases as ‘rare’ or as a ‘small percentage’ of cases.”

One slide estimates 35,000 symptomatic infections a week among 162 million vaccinated Americans, though it finds a far greater risk of disease, hospitalization and death among the unvaccinated.

The delta variant is driving cases higher in all 50 states and has created crisis conditions in states with low vaccination rates.

The AP has a tragic report on a family in Osage Beach, Mo., in which 10 members got sick and 31-year-old father is fighting for his life in intensive care. The family declined to get vaccinated because “we’re a strong conservative family,” Barker told the AP, reportedly through labored breathing.

See also: Biden urges local, state governments to pay newly vaccinated people $100 each

The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that almost 164 million Americans are fully vaccinated, equal to 49.4% of the overall population, a number that has barely budged in weeks. That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
PFE,
+0.27%

with German partner BioNTech
BNTX,
+3.64%

or Moderna
MRNA,
+3.60%
,
or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s
JNJ,
+0.16%

one-dose regimen. The AstraZeneca
AZN,
-0.54%

AZN,
-0.11%

vaccine that has been widely used in the U.K. and other places has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among adults 18 and over, 60.3% are fully vaccinated and 69.4% have received at least one dose, still short of President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of the adult population receive at least one dose by the July 4 holiday.

Elsewhere, China’s eastern city of Nanjing reported 13 new domestically transmitted COVID-19 patients on Thursday, bringing the total to 184 since July 20, as the country’s latest major outbreak caused by the delta variant continues, Reuters reported. Thousands of Chinese people are in lockdown to combat the spread.

China is facing its most widespread Covid-19 outbreak in months with more than 200 cases linked to the city of Nanjing. Authorities kept tight border controls and ramped up vaccination drives, but the Delta variant is challenging their pandemic response. Photo: Alex Plavevski/Shutterstock

Japan has extended its state of emergency to four new areas on top of Tokyo, the AP reported. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared an emergency in Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba, near Tokyo, as well as in the western city of Osaka, effective from Monday until Aug. 31. Emergency measures already in place in Tokyo and the southern island of Okinawa will be extended until the end of August, after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which start Aug. 24.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set an aggressive target for reopening borders, which will only happen once 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, AFP reported. That comes a day after Sydney officials called on the military to aid in enforcing a lockdown as the nation’s biggest city struggles to contain a worsening outbreak.

The Czech government has approved a measure to offer civil servants two extra days of vacation if they get vaccinated, also from Reuters. The European Union country of 10.7 million reported 10.19 million doses of vaccines given as of Thursday, with 4.74 million people fully vaccinated.

See now: As CDC reverses mask policy, Apple, Costco, Walmart and others have some soul-searching to do

Related: Restaurants tell customers, ‘No vax, no service’ as delta variant spreads

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 196.7 million on Friday, while the death toll climbed above 4.2 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The data show that 4 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally. Duke University research suggests at least 11 billion doses are needed to achieve herd immunity across the world.

The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34.8 million cases and in deaths with 612,135.

India is second by cases at 31.6 million and third by deaths at 423,217 according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.

Brazil is second in deaths at 554,497 but is third in cases at 19.8 million. Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 239,997 but has recorded just 2.8 million cases, according to its official numbers.

In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 155,180, while the U.K. has suffered 129,809, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and the highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,922 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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