United Kingdom

Covid variants are blamed for spike in cases in some states while infections decline in Texas

More than half of American adults have now had at least their first dose of coronavirus vaccine, and there are promising signs the shots are working: Plummeting average daily death numbers over the past week. 

The seven-day rolling average of fatalities has fallen by a quarter to 737 compared to seven days ago when 987 people were dying a day. There were 477 deaths on Monday, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. 

However, average daily deaths have trended upward slightly this week, up 0.4 percent from last week according to Johns Hopkins data, and up two percent according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data as of Monday. 

CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky said Monday there had been six consecutive days of increases in fatalities. 

Cases have ticking upward in at least 17 U.S. states in the past two weeks, according to tracking from DataUSA.io.  

States like Michigan where more than 50 percent of cases are caused by the UK variant are seeing cases climb, while fully-reopened Texas, with just 42 percent of its cases caused by the variant, continues to see declines.  

Texas has seen continued declines in its number of daily Covid-19 cases, despite fully reopening. Cases have fallen about 12% over the past two weeks 

Meanwhile, cases nearly tripled in Michigan this month (though they are now declining) despite the fact that it kept caps on restaurant capacity. One expert says the UK variant, which accounts for more than 55% of the state's cases, is to blame 

States like Michigan where more than 50 percent of cases are caused by the UK variant are seeing cases climb, while fully-reopened Texas with just 42 percent of cases caused by the variant continues to see declines

Daily hospital admissions for COVID-19 are on the decline too, with the seven-day rolling average falling by nearly three percent compared to last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show. 

Yet new daily infections are up nationwide, by about six percent over last week to more than 68,000 a day, including 67,933 recorded yesterday. 

'I want to recognize that we remain in a complicated stage [of the pandemic],' said Dr Walensky during a Monday White House Covid Response Team press briefing. 

'On the one hand, more people in the United States are being vaccinated every day at an accelerated pace. On the other hand, cases and hospitalizations are increasing in some areas of the country, and cases among younger people, who have not yet been vaccinated, are also increasing.' 

The divergent trends are indeed driven by the now-dominant UK variant, which is most prevalent in Tennessee, Michigan and Minnesota - all of which have seen daily infection increases in the last 14 days. 

Meanwhile, Texas has seen its average daily cases decline by 12 percent in the same span of time. 

That bucks the expectations of public health experts, if it was reopenings alone driving upward trends in cases. 

Both Michigan and Texas lifted Covid restrictions last month. In fact, Texas lifted more of its restrictions and did so earlier than Michigan, which still has a statewide mask mandate and a 50 percent capacity limit for indoor dining. 

Yet Texas 'is doing much better than one might expect in that circumstance,' Dr Barry Bloom, a public health and immunology professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health told  the Wall Street Journal. 

'I would guess that it would be more of the rapidly-spreading strain in Michigan.' 

Michigan has one of the nation's highest rate of variants, second only to Tennessee. 

An estimated 58 percent of its Covid cases are caused by the more infectious (and likely more deadly) B117 variant that emerged in the UK, according to data from the CDC. 

In Tennessee, about 61 percent of cases are caused by the variant. 

And Minnesota is a close third, with B117 driving about 56 percent of infections. 

Texas isn't too much further down that list, coming in at sixth with 43 percent of its infections caused by the variant. 

But that's a difference of about 26 percent compared to the variant's prevalence in Michigan, and that may be enough to drive case trends in opposite directions in the two states.  

Encouragingly, the tide may be turning in Michigan, too, despite the fact that the federal government denied requests from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and public health experts to surge vaccine supply to the state. 

For her part, Governor Whitmer also declined to reinstate more restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in her state, despite calls from Dr Anthony Fauci to do so.  

After nearly tripling in a month to the latest peak of 7,870 daily average cases on April 10, daily infections are now down by 18 percent to 6458 a day in Michigan. 

Other states with high prevalences of the B117 variant aren't faring as well.   

In Tennessee, which has the highest rate of cases due to the UK variant in the nation, average new daily infections have shot up by nearly 40 percent to 1,682 a day. 

Nonetheless, the race between vaccines and variants continues. 

States like Michigan and Tennessee will have to start vaccinating more quickly if they want to outpace variants that interfering with their progress toward herd immunity and driving accelerated spread of the virus.  

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