“We are not facing a silent wave of the pandemic. We are blindfolding ourselves to the new wave. We are not wanting to see it. We are not wanting to name it by her name.” Epidemiologist Daniel López-Acuña, former director of Sanitary Action in Crisis Situations of the World Health Organization, is emphatic when analyzing the rise in the incidence of COVID-19 and the increase in hospitalizations in the last month, especially since Easter and the end of the mandatory nature of masks indoors.
The incidence in the population over 60 years -the only one currently offered by the Ministry of Health- has risen since last April 1 from 459 cases accumulated per 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days up to 813.22 in the latest report this Friday, which represents a rise of 77%. Three communities -Navarra, Murcia and La Rioja- exceed 1,500 cases that mark high risk for this indicator, according to the new surveillance strategy, while another six are above 1,000.
“There is a considerable uptick in incidence, and a rebound in the incidence sustained over time is a new wave whether you want to call it that or not“, adds López-Acuña, who affirms that, if the incidence in people under 60 were analyzed, “we would see that it is the same or greater”.
For the immunologist of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) Matilde Cañelles, that the incidence rose “was the most expected” before the circulation most transmissible variants than the original omicron and the “Aggravating” the withdrawal of measures in Spain such as the isolation of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic patients and the end of masks indoors. But beyond the incidence, for Cañelles the most “worrying” thing is that hospitalizations are “clearly” rising.
Since April 1, these have increased by 65%, going from 4,150 admissions to 6,858, although the number of people in the ICU -362 according to the latest Health data- remains stable for now. In the sixth wave, hospitalizations in the plant exceeded 19,000 and in intensive care, 2,500.
“What worries me about what has been done in Spain is that we are the ones who are doing it in the most irresponsible way, in my opinion. For three reasons: we have stopped isolating asymptomatic and mild; we have stopped measuring the incidence under 60 years (…) so that when we see hospitalizations rise we are already late; plus we have not given fourth doses of the vaccines“, emphasizes Cañelles, who recalls that protection, especially in the older population, decreases with the passing of the months.
This would explain why the incidence of those over 80 years of age – the first to receive the third dose – already exceeds 1,000 cases and is the highest among the population over 60.
Joan Caylà, doctor of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology and member of the Barcelona Tuberculosis Research Unit Foundation, also believes that “we are facing a new epidemic wave, although euphemisms are being used”. This epidemiologist defends that, although the current rise “seems small” compared to the sixth wave, it is not when compared to others such as the fifthand remember that Every day thirty people die in Spain from COVID.
The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, defended this very Friday that the pandemic continues to be motorized with “maximum vigilance” focusing above all on the care capacity indicators, which are maintained, he assures, “within an acceptable level”, reports Europa Press.
Purchase of antigen tests and internet searches, informal indicators
Apart from the epidemiological indicators of incidence, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths, there are other informal ones that give clues about the increase in infections. One of them is the sale of antigen tests. In April they rose 22.3% compared to March, due in part to the fact that the general population is no longer being tested, but also to an increase in cases.
Another indicator, more informal and somewhat predictive of new waves, as analysts such as Francis Pujolprofessor at the University of Navarra: the Google searches for “COVID symptoms”. Since the beginning of April they have grown again although they are still very far from the peak that was reached on December 19 at the gates of Christmas in the middle of the sixth wave.
When masks were no longer mandatory outdoors, in February, Fani was one of the people who typed in the search engine what symptoms COVID-19 was now presenting with. When on Tuesday of last week she began with a headache, itchy throat and fever, this 30-year-old girl – who no longer appears in the official statistics – did not have to repeat the search.
Three days later and after a first negative, the antigen test gave him the “surprise” that it was positive after two years of carrying out “to the letter” all prevention measuresalthough he acknowledges that in the last two weeks he had “relaxed” with the end of the obligation to wear a mask indoors and had seen family and friends without the mask.
“It has influenced. We have relaxed by the mere fact of having removed the masks. It has made us see that there is no longer so much risk, that it is mild with the vaccines, that if it touches you it is already more like the flu. The measures that are taken both to put them on and to remove them from the authorities have a great impact on the population, “he explains to RTVE.es.
Masks and a vaccination that has run out of steam
Joan Caylá emphasizes that, indeed, “The issue of masks has encouraged part of the population to think that this is over” despite the fact that “the pandemic continues”. The epidemiologist also adds, as factors triggering the seventh wave, the removal of isolations in asymptomatic and mildly ill patients -despite facing a “very contagious measles-level” variant- and the little coverage of third doses.
In Spain, 92.6% of the population over 12 years of age have completed the vaccination schedule, but only 52.4% have received a booster dose. In addition, coverage in children between 5 and 12 years of age continues to be low: 45.7% do not have any dose and only 42.6% have the complete regimen.
López Acuña points out as factors the end of isolation and generalized tests and the “neglect” of the issue of masks not only indoors but also outdoors when there are crowds, as they have occurred at Easter, with “extraordinary social interactions”. To all this, we must add two more elements, in his opinion, related to vaccination: the immunological protection that declines with the passage of time, especially in those over 80 years of age and the lack of vaccination coverage of third doses and in minors.
The CSIC immunologist Matilde Cañelles believes that it is key to give the fourth booster doses to those over 80 years of age – “we are already late”sentence- and offer them to the rest of the population over 60. The Public Health Commission, of which the Ministry of Health and the autonomous communities are part, however, is in favor of postpone until autumn this fourth prickwhen new generation vaccines are available, already adapted to omicron and other variants.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.