With one more month left to go in 2021, the coming holiday season once again indicates that serious monitoring of the COVID situation in Peru is needed in the coming weeks. The second wave nearly a year ago devastated a country still without vaccines after Christmas and New Years gatherings causing massive explosions in COVID transmission resulting in hospitalizations and deaths that went through the roof.
Unfortunately, despite the highly successful ongoing vaccination campaign across the country in 2021, there are signs that the numbers are starting to climb again as the next holiday season rapidly approaches.
Peru’s Ministry of Health (Minsa) released the final data for the month last night allowing the following report and analysis.
Positivity Rates of Testing
The best way to monitor the spread of COVID is NOT to look at the number of cases — something that still amazes me when it is used as an indicator of anything at all — but at the positivity rate of testing. The percentage of positive tests is really the only way to get an idea of how of COVID is spreading.
Over the last month there has been a significant rise (46.8%) in the 7-day rates of positivity rates from the start of November until the end of the month. While the numbers are still far lower than the worst periods earlier in the year, the consistent rise should be very concerning.
Fortunately hospitalizations have generally continued to drop during November, but not at as fast a rate as in previous months. The jump in patients about a week ago is likely not a concern as the number of COVID-19 patients quickly began dropping again. These big 1-day changes are almost certainly due to corrections that come with managing data from a health system serving 33 million people.
Unfortunately, there has been a significant and steady rise in COVID patients in Intensive Care (ICU). As with general hospitalizations, health officials continue to point out that this number is made up of those who are not fully vaccinated.
Despite claims by the anti-vaccination community which still continues to spread COVID vaccine misinformation despite the billions of data points now available, research clearly shows that being vaccinated will almost certainly keep one out of the hospital and, even worse, from dying. There is zero research indicating anything different.
Another concerning rise is that of the average number of COVID-related deaths each day. After months of steady decrease, that number went up 19.4% in November over the previous month. Again, health officials say this number is almost completely made up of those with one or no vaccination doses.
In November, Peru averaged 16.6 COVID-related deaths a day. Of even greater concern is that over the past 8 days that number has risen to nearly 20 deaths a day.
The increasing rate of transmissibility is likely caused by several things.
A reduction in mask wearing as people become fully vaccinated contributes to new infections. While vaccines do dramatically increase the odds of becoming infected, they do not — as many anti-vaccine proponents false claim — provide complete protection against infection. What they do is provide an extremely high protection rate against serious illness resulting in hospitalization or death.
By not wearing a mask, the chance of becoming infected and passing on COVID to someone who is not vaccinated and could die unnecessarily goes up exponentially. Apparently there is an increasing number of people unconcerned about killing innocent people.
As an example, I was outside a restaurant a few days ago waiting for a table to open. Three European tourists walked right past me into the restaurant. The man in the group said he would come inside in a moment then pulled down his mask and lit up a cigarette literally less than two feet away from me unconcerned about blowing smoke in my direction. I told him the law was to wear a mask in Peru. His two female friends were apparently insulted by my pointing out the law — not to mention human decency — and told him not to pay attention to me. (They were a little more apologetic when I pointed out that was exactly what they did when cutting in front of the line to enter the restaurant.)
Another likely factor is the decreasing effectiveness of vaccines over the months resulting in increased infections. While booster doses are being applied, the focus wisely still remains on vaccinating those who are currently unvaccinated.
I haven’t noticed the kind of of booster vaccine promotion in Cusco (where I live) compared to the original publicity efforts for first-time shots months ago.
Still, the number of people fully vaccinated continues to rise. As of last night 67% of those aged 12 and older in Peru are now fully vaccinated with the focus on adolescents and young adults. The vaccination program has easily been one of the strongest programs in Peruvian history and has resulting in untold lives saved.
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The next month is going to be critical. Not only is it the holiday season, but it is also the traditional summer vacation period for countless families who travel all over the country. Mid to late January is going to be closely watched as that is when any significant changes in transmissibility, hospitalizations, and deaths will start to appear. Lets hope there are no big negative changes, but I am not very confident at this point.