As cases of COVID-19 rise sharply throughout the region – by 27.2% over the past week – the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Carissa F. Etienne, has called on countries to take action to increase surveillance, public health measures and vaccination, and to make sure that health systems are prepared to cope with a potential influx of COVID-19 patients.
“Last week, our region reported more than 918,000 cases,” the Director said in a media briefing today. “COVID-19 hospitalizations increased in 18 countries, and admissions to Intensive Care Units rose in 13 countries and territories.”
Following a period of lower transmission, the PAHO Director highlighted that many countries have abandoned public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
But with only 14 of the 51 countries and territories in the Americas reaching the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of 70% vaccination coverage, far too many people remain unprotected.
In some countries, vaccination coverage is particularly low among those at risk of severe disease, including the elderly, pregnant women, and people with preexisting conditions, she noted.
“Each country is only as protected as the most vulnerable in their population,” Dr. Etienne said. “It is time to take stock of these numbers and act. COVID-19 is again on the rise in the Americas.”
Despite having built “incredible networks for COVID testing and genomic surveillance” over the past two years, the PAHO Director said that testing rates have steadily declined since January.
“We must keep our eyes on the virus,” she said, calling on countries to maintain and strengthen testing infrastructure and to ensure that in places where self-tests are available, results are reported to health authorities.
Countries must also maintain investments in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and hospital capacity so that services can be quickly scaled-up to meet a potential surge in new infections, she added.
The PAHO Director called on countries to be ready to reinstate public health measures in areas where cases spike, and to ensure that the most vulnerable groups are protected, particularly now that vaccine supplies are no longer a barrier.
“We have sufficient doses to cover those most at risk, and we have an obligation to do so,” she said.
In the Caribbean, new infections have been on the rise for five consecutive weeks, with a 9.3% increase in cases and a 49% increase in deaths.