“Transmission of COVID19 in the Americas remains very active, with some countries suffering recurrent spikes in cases and the virus spreading in new and different ways,” said Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Dr. Carissa F Etienne.
“While Brazil and the U.S. remain significant drivers of new cases in our region, we’re concerned by spikes in cases – including in places that had effectively managed outbreaks, like Cuba and Jamaica,” she said while speaking at a Covid forum on Wednesday.
Over the past 60 days, 11 countries and territories in the Caribbean have moved from moderate to intense transmission, which is a concerning development as countries reopen airspace.
Over 17 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Americas, with more than 574,000 deaths, representing half of all cases worldwide and more than half of all deaths.
The new ways in which it is spreading is among younger people who have mild or no symptoms and are unaware they are infected.
In the US, young people, especially those aged 20-29 years old, represent 20% of new cases.
“While many young people won’t become ill or require an ICU bed, they are not immune to developing the serious effects of COVID-19,” Dr. Etienne said.
Elderly people and those with diabetes or hypertension are still vulnerable.
“So I urge people of all ages to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing to protect themselves and avoid exposing others,” she said.
She added, however, that rates of severe COVID illness have fallen across our region.
“Today, fewer people are being hospitalized and fewer require intensive care than before, due in part to our growing knowledge of this virus and how to manage critically ill patients.”
PAHO has held more than 160 trainings, delivered more than 17 million COVID PCR tests, and millions more gloves, gowns, and masks to keep health workers safe.
Dr. Etienne said, “When hospitals are able to cope and manage patients, there are fewer deaths. These efforts have helped save thousands of lives and will continue to protect countless more.”
Etienne gave credit to the work of governments that acted quickly to expand laboratory networks, increase hospital beds, and hire and train health care workers.
She also credited health care workers “for their dedication and commitment,” under difficult conditions.
Yet despite these efforts, Etienne highlighted that several groups remain at particular risk, particularly those “with limited access to prevention and care”.
These include black, Hispanic, and Native American populations in the US that are nearly three times as likely to contact COVID as their white counterparts.