Dr Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), urged countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean, to take action to increase surveillance, public health measures and vaccination, in anticipation of a potential influx of coronavirus (COVID-19) patients.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the region increased by 27.2% over the past week, according to the Pan American Health Organization.
“Last week, our region reported more than 918,000 cases,” Dominica-born Dr Etienne told reporters, noting that “COVID-19 hospitalizations rose in 18 countries, and admissions to intensive care units rose in 13 countries and territories.”
Several countries have abandoned public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing after a period of lower transmission.
In the Americas, only 14 of the 51 countries and territories reach the target of 70% vaccination coverage set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Vaccination coverage is particularly low in some countries among those at risk of severe disease, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing conditions.
Each country is only as protected as its most vulnerable citizens. We need to act now. COVID-19 is again on the rise in the Americas.”
Over the past two years, the company has built “incredible networks for COVID testing and genomic surveillance,” but testing rates have steadily declined since January.
She called on countries to maintain and strengthen testing infrastructure and ensure that in places where self-testing is available, results are reported to health authorities.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and hospital capacity must also be maintained so that hospitals can scale up quickly to meet a potential surge in new infections, she said.
As vaccine supplies no longer pose a barrier, the director of PAHO urged countries to restore public health measures in areas where cases spike, and to protect the most vulnerable groups.
“We have sufficient doses to cover the most vulnerable and we have an obligation to do so,” she said.
Regarding the COVID-19 epidemic in the region, Dr. Etienne noted that more than half of the new infections have been reported in North America, where cases have been climbing for seven weeks thanks to a surge in the United States.
Cases of COVID-19 in Central America have increased by 80 percent, and cases in South America have also spiked.
Five consecutive weeks have seen an increase in new infections in the Caribbean, with a 9.3 percent increase in cases and a 49 percent increase in deaths.