Wastewater levels continued to increase nationally for the seventh consecutive week, though regional behavior might be starting to diverge. In the South and Northeast, wastewater levels have dropped slightly, while in the West and especially the Midwest wastewater levels have continued to increase, with a dramatic 2x increase in the Midwest in the past week from 336 to 666 copies/mL of sewage. Note that the slight drop could be due to a lack of updated data, as has happened before–we will know for sure in a few weeks. The spike is very concerning and could foreshadow similar spikes in other regions as has occurred in the past, for example back at the beginning of the pandemic when the wave in New York was subsequently followed by waves in the West and South. This increase in US wastewater levels matches well with what the World Health Organization is saying, too: global COVID cases have spiked 80% in the past month alone.
The conclusion is clear: we need accurate COVID case data and a transmission map, now, so that people can use that data to protect each other and themselves. It continues to be a national tragedy that the US CDC refuses to do its basic job to collect data and protect us from this ongoing pandemic. Instead, the new CDC director, Mandy Cohen, is not exemplifying good public health practices in her own behavior by hosting and attending maskless meetings and focusing on other health issues by tweeting about RSV and mental health without mentioning the critical COVID link nor the ongoing COVID surge. Shame on Mandy Cohen –we should remember to keep our expectations of our government officials high, as historically the nations that have obscured their populace’s access to basic health data have been authoritarian ones. We should keep up the fight for democratic access to basic health data and never accept the low, dangerous standards that are currently being forced upon us.
In the meantime, trackers like the Walgreens public positivity tracker can be used as an additional indicator for where positive cases are happening–and it too suggests a continued increase in cases, with a national positivity rate of 44.7% as of last week, the highest rate since May 2021. Though this tracker may not be useful as a measure for absolute positivity, what it does offer is its ability to track trends in cases–and this rise being mirrored on both this positivity tracker and wastewater is a sure sign of a surge.
In past reports, we have highlighted conferences and events that are providing layers of protection. This week we are happy to report three additional conferences and events that are doing the same. North Bay Python hosted their annual conference after a three year break from July 29th to 30th. They required universal masking and provided masks for all attendees. Additionally, they provided free rapid antigen tests and committed to using CO2 monitors throughout their venue to monitor ventilation levels. FlameCon – the world’s largest LGBTQIA comic and pop culture convention that ran August 12th and 13th – required proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test to attend. Additionally, they required masking by all attendees. This is a testament to the fact that we can have fun and convene within our community and still protect each other’s health. Vancouver’s first annual Clean Air Festival will be happening on August 20th and will require N95 masks for all attendees. Additionally, they will be hosting workshops on how to create Corsi–Rosenthal Boxes.
COVID was the third leading cause of death in America (behind heart disease and cancer) during the first three years of the pandemic (2020-2022) according to one expert’s recent analysis of reliable mortality data from these initial pandemic years. What is most striking is that even for those under 30 years of age, COVID was still in the top ten at #9–further evidence that yes, COVID can kill all of us, even our children. This analysis shows us that even as deaths data continues to be obscured by the CDC, we should not only expect to see more COVID deaths in the future, but that we should continue to treat COVID as the major risk that it is and hold the CDC accountable for failing to inform the public.
Long COVID continues to be covered in mainstream discourse and highlights the personal narratives of those living with Long COVID. A recent Atlantic piece explores the debilitating effects of fatigue and how it impacts the lives of those with long COVID and ME/CFS. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, author Madeline Miller narrates her challenges and sacrifices she has had to make while battling Long COVID. Miller concludes her article with a statement regarding how long she’ll continue to employ multiple layers of protection: “So how long am I going to do this? Until indoor air is safe for all, until vaccines prevent transmission, until there’s a cure for long covid…Because the truth is that however immortal we feel, we are all just one infection away from a new life.”
It has been two years since the NIH received $1.15 billion from Congress to study and treat long COVID. Clinic trials have finally begun; however, as STATNews reported in a recent article, scientists and patients with long COVID fear the clinical trials will not yield substantial treatments and worry the research efforts “may have been wasted”.
In the near future, we may no longer need to wait a day or longer for PCR-level accuracy or rely on the inaccuracy of rapid antigen tests on whether one has COVID. Scientists at the Washington University in St. Louis [originally University of Washington] have recently developed a biosensor-based COVID breath test, with just one or two breaths into a straw and a minute or two wait, can tell you whether you have COVID. Their study shows lots of promise, as it appears to give diagnostic-level accuracy and to pick up a variety of COVID variants. We hope that as this kind of COVID testing is further refined and made widely available that it can become one more tool in our fight for better data and equitable COVID testing access for all.
The UCSF COVID Tracking project has launched an open-source data journalism “course-in-a-box” on Pandemic data journalism. This free course is a great resource for those wanting to develop or enhance their skill sets, using content from the original COVID Tracking Project that could potentially be used to further assist with COVID data tracking. This course is a great resource for data journalism educators, as well as people interested in learning more about the foundations of data journalism.
Another way we can help is by taking part in direct actions ranging from distribution of critical supplies like masks and tests to civil disobedience blocking injustice. Long COVID Justice has a toolkit that empowers any one of us to perform direct actions like these in our fight to end this pandemic once and for all.
This is the last week to register to speak at the upcoming CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) meeting on August 22nd from 12:00pm to 2:30pm EST. We need N95 respirators as part of the standard in infection control for COVID and other airborne pathogens. Tell the CDC that they must maintain high levels of infection control and to reinstate universal masking in healthcare. Written comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 25. Tell your local representative in Congress through these instructions and demand higher standards and transparency with HICPAC. You can also send them an email asking that the CDC maintain higher standards with infection control in healthcare settings.
Notes: 1) The numbers in this report were current as of 8/14/2023. 2) Changes in testing access as well as data reporting have led many federal data sources to become less reliable. Fewer federal data sources may be included in current and upcoming Weather Reports, and we will do our best to provide context regarding the representativeness of limited data. 3) Check out the links throughout & see our website for more! https://peoplescdc.org