National numbers, June 20

The CDC updated its variant prevalence estimates this week, reporting that the Delta variant makes up 10% of U.S. cases as of June 5. This aligns with other estimates I cited last week, and suggests that the variant is spreading here at a truly rapid pace—its prevalence multiplied by four times in two weeks, according to CDC data.

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New variant names from the WHO

We finally have a straightforward variant naming system: on May 31, the WHO announced a system using letters of the Greek alphabet. B.1.1.7 (first identified in the U.K. is now Alpha, B.1.351 (first identified in South Africa) is now Beta, and so on.

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National numbers, May 30

Cases, deaths, and hospitalizations all continue to drop nationwide. The U.S. reported about 3,000 COVID-19 deaths last week, in total—at the peak of the winter surge, we saw more than 3,000 deaths a day.

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All variant data are weeks old

It takes three to four weeks for data on a variant COVID-19 case to be made public. I have been quietly stressing out about this fact for about a month, since I learned it from Will Lee, VP of science at the genomics company Helix. This lag time includes the actual sequencing process as well as coordination with public health authorities and sequencing data repositories.

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National numbers, May 2

New cases are down for the second week in a row—good news after the 70,000-plus peak of mid-April. Still, 50,000-plus cases in a day is no good place to plateau, new hospital admissions remain over 5,000 a day, and vaccinations are slowing: the U.S. is now averaging about 2.6 million shots a day, down from 3.4 million a couple of weeks ago.

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How to talk about breakthrough cases

A lot of journalists, especially those who aren’t familiar with the science/health beat, may be inclined to publish news of breakthrough cases as surprising or monumental. In fact, these cases—referring to a COVID-19 infection that occurs after someone has been fully vaccinated—are entirely normal, yet incredibly rare. But we still need to pursue data on them.

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