India Surpasses 10 Million Cases, UK Fears New Strain as COVID Advances Across the Globe

Emergency Room Signage
COVID-19 emergency room signage

The United States is closing in on 18 million cases of COVID-19 and has surpassed 318,700 deaths attributed to the coronavirus while global numbers are 77.1 million cases and 1.7 million deaths.  Globally, we are seeing Europe hold relatively steady while South and Central America seem to be seeing their infection rate climb. 

In the past week, India became the second country to pass the 10 million case mark.  Turkey surpassed 2 million and Italy is likely to do so this coming week.  Here’s a look at COVID-19 cases week over week:

COVID-19 case data for the week ending 12/21/20.  Data from Johns Hopkins.
COVID-19 case data for the week ending 12/21/20. Data from Johns Hopkins.

In our global weekly roundup, the order of the top 10 countries with the highest number of cases did not change.  Germany, however, passed Columbia to move into the 11th slot.  The Ukraine also moved up a tick overtaking Peru.  Both countries are about to hit the one million case mark.

The majority of the countries listed were at the same or better levels this week, but the UK moved from 9 percent up to 11 percent.  The Ukraine, Netherlands and Indonesia also saw their numbers tick upwards.

A New Strain?

Boris Johnson recently reported that a new strain of the virus is up to 70 percent more contagious has been spreading in Wales and Southern England  and is responsible for their surge of new cases.  Quite a few countries have prohibited visitors from the UK.   France banned all visitors and freight which resulted in serious disruption at ports and the Chunnel.   

On the other hand, we’ve also seen reporting that it is too soon to say for sure that the new strain is more contagious.  Some experts say you’d need studies to prove that and they have not been done.  However you look at it, cases are up in the UK.  That may be related to the new strain or it may be a coincidence.

Either way, more disruption is clearly on the way.  The impact that shutdowns and import bans will have on the economy of the UK is going to be tremendous.  They may end up in worse shape than the U.S., and the height of the cold and flu season still lies ahead of us.  Expect the first couple months of 2021 to be ugly.

ICU Capacity Maxes Out

One of my daughters previously worked in an ICU unit at a hospital affiliated with a multi-hospital chain.  Among other things, part of her responsibility was trying to ensure there was always at least one ICU bed available for an accident victim or other medical trauma or emergency patient.  I got the impression that patients died there every day, but more of them were sent to a step-down unit.

Her hospital had multiple ICUs, including an ICU dedicated to cardiac patients, but sometimes her unit had to take their overflow.   Sometimes outlying hospitals would fly patients in.  Sometimes she would fly patients out, like burn victims who needed to be at a special burn unit. 

My point is, hospital ICUs are often crowded and occasionally full, so I am not sure how much we should read into the open ICU beds rate or percentage of available beds rate.  More critical is a shortage of trained doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.