The head of the World Health Organization offered an upbeat assessment of the state of the pandemic on Wednesday, telling reporters that the world has never been in a better position to end it.
“We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a virtual press conference.
But Tedros urged world leaders to keep up all efforts to rein in the virus, warning that to do otherwise creates the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty.
“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view,” he said. “She runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we. We can see the finish line. We’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running.”
In another positive, the agency said deaths in the previous week fell to their lowest level since March 2020.
The WHO has been cautioning, however, that numbers are being distorted by a reduction in surveillance, as some countries have stopped monitoring the virus as rigorously as in the past. Test numbers, for example, are being affected by the greater use of at-home tests, for which data are not being collected.
That same pullback in monitoring is leading Johns Hopkins University to scale back its COVID-19 dashboard, according to a Wall Street Journal report. It will update global case, death and vaccine data once a day, instead of every hour, starting Sept. 21.
It will also stop reporting testing numbers, because those numbers are no longer reliable, and start pulling data from other sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, instead of directly from local health agencies.
“We have seen a dramatic shift in the way that state and local governments not only collect this data but share it publicly,” Beth Blauer, associate vice provost for public-sector innovation at Johns Hopkins and data lead for the school’s Coronavirus Resource Center, told the newspaper. “That deeply constrains the way that we can actually report.”
The university started the dashboard in January 2020 and it quickly became a key resource for the media, government officials, researchers and the general public. The dashboard has garnered more than 800 million page views, averaging 6 million page views a month this year.
The move comes as the number of known cases of COVID in the U.S. is continuing to fall and now stands at its lowest level since early May, according to a New York Times tracker.
The daily average for new cases stood at 64,598 on Tuesday, down 29% from two weeks ago. The tracker shows case counts rising in just four states — Connecticut, Maryland, Idaho and New Hampshire — and falling everywhere else.
The daily average for hospitalizations was down 10%, to 34,076, while the daily average for deaths was down 8%, to 437.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Some 500,000 workers have permanently left the U.S. workforce because of long COVID, according to a new report from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The report found that the majority of patients who experienced lingering effects from the virus for months after infection moved straight from illness to retirement, based on federal- and state-level data on cases and deaths. “Many who fall ill but survive COVID-19 suffer from enduring health problems,” the authors wrote. About 500,000 adults “are neither working nor actively looking for work due to the persistent effects of COVID-19 illnesses.” A recent report from the Brookings Institution found that as many as 4 million people are not working due to COVID symptoms.
• At least 17 million people in the European Union experienced long COVID between 2020 and 2021, and millions may have symptoms for years to come, the WHO said Tuesday. That was based on new modeling by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. The modeling found that women were twice as likely as men to experience long COVID. “Furthermore, the risk increases dramatically among severe COVID-19 cases needing hospitalization, with one in three females and one in five males likely to develop long COVID,” the WHO said.
• Residents of a city in China’s far western Xinjiang region say they are experiencing hunger, forced quarantines and dwindling supplies of medicines and daily necessities after more than 40 days in a virus lockdown, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds of posts from the city of Ghulja riveted users of Chinese social media last week, with residents sharing videos of empty fridges, feverish children and people yelling out of windows. The dire conditions and food shortages are reminiscent of a harsh lockdown in Shanghai this spring, when thousands of residents posted online, complaining they received rotting vegetables or were denied critical medical care.
• President Joe Biden has the same authority to impose a COVID vaccine requirement on federal workers that private employers have for their employees, an administration lawyer told a federal appeals court Tuesday, the AP reported separately. A lawyer for opponents of the vaccine requirement, which has been blocked nationwide by a federal judge in Texas, said the requirement imposes an “unconstitutionally intolerable choice” on executive branch workers of either taking a vaccine they don’t want or losing their jobs.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 609. 9 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.51 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 95.4 million cases and 1,051,323 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 224.4 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 67.6% of the total population. Just 108.9 million have had a booster, equal to 48.6% of the vaccinated population, and 22.2 million of those 50 and over who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 34.3% of those who had a first booster.