Deaths rose to 202 people per hour in the region despite overall decline in cases
WASHINGTON, DC — Complacency around mask wearing, travel and indoor gatherings created a perfect opportunity for the new omicron variant to spread rapidly throughout the region and increase deaths, said PAHO Director Carissa F Etienne yesterday.
She noted that many places remained “just as they were before”.
“Reduced public health measures were insufficient to reduce the scale of this wave, and now we’re dealing with the consequence — a rise in infections is driving a surge in deaths,” she said at a media briefing.
While still very high, COVID-19 infections declined by 31 percent this week and deaths continued to rise by 5.6 percent.
“Undoubtedly, omicron overtook us,” the director said.
“Every time infections surge, there is a heavy toll for our families and communities.”
PAHO noted that peaks in cases are usually followed by peaks in deaths three weeks later.
“COVID-19 is a preventable disease and right now, we’re losing far too many lives,” Etienne added.
“As omicron arrived, we didn’t use all the tools we had developed to slow the spread and prevent infections.”
More than half of deaths in the latest surge occurred in people over the age of 65, but many others occurred among those yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Unvaccinated people of all ages still fill up hospitals and ICU beds, the health organization noted.
“Omicron has shown that the vaccines we have at hand can protect most of us from severe illness and death,” Etienne said.
To ensure more equitable access, PAHO’s Revolving Fund has now delivered 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in coordination with COVAX.
The PAHO director thanked donors for contributing 30 percent of the 100-million dose milestone and urged countries “to focus on filling in critical gaps in vaccination coverage” to ensure that at least 20 million more people are fully vaccinated, particularly high-risk groups.
We need to activate our responses more rapidly to keep pace with the current wave and stay ahead of future surges of this very fast, very serious virus.
– PAHO Director Dr Carissa F Etienne
“We won’t overcome this pandemic unless we protect these groups, and then go beyond to cover everyone who is eligible,” she said.
Etienne also highlighted that countries must be vigilant about implementing public health measures quickly. They must adjust hospital systems to accommodate new surges, while ensuring healthcare workers have the tools they need to safely treat COVID-19 patients.
“We need to activate our responses more rapidly to keep pace with the current wave and stay ahead of future surges of this very fast, very serious virus,” she added.
With up to 202 people dying every hour due to this latest surge, “inaction is not an option”, the PAHO director said.
Turning to the COVID-19 situation in the region, countries of the Americas reported 3.3 million new cases and more than 34,000 COVID-19 related deaths.
In North America, the United States recorded the highest number of deaths in the subregion — 17,000.
Countries in Central America and in the Caribbean reported a surge in COVID-19 deaths, as well as an increase in hospitalizations, reaching 19 percent in some countries and territories of the Eastern Caribbean.
In South America, deaths in Brazil reached the highest numbers ever, setting a record for this wave.