Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director, Carissa F. Etienne disclosed on Wednesday that over the past week, countries in the Americas (North and South) saw 6.1 million new cases of COVID-19 – a 250% increase from the same period last year.
Thanks to increased vaccination in the region, Etienne said the COVID-19 death rate remains stable but the hike in emergency room visits and hospitalizations has left many health systems struggling to cope.
Taking this into consideration, the PAHO official called on countries to ensure health workers have access to protective equipment and additional COVID-19 vaccine doses where available.
“We must make sure they are protected from the worst consequences of this virus,” she said in a media briefing.
The PAHO Director highlighted that an additional vaccination dose will “help reinforce health workers’ ability to withstand exposure to the virus,” particularly in light of rising infections.
While Delta continues to cause new COVID cases in the Americas, the official said Omicron is on track to becoming the dominant strain, spreading more quickly than other detected variants, particularly in enclosed spaces. She said it has already been reported in 42 countries and territories in the region, and several are now experiencing widespread community transmission.
While reports suggest that it may cause less severe symptoms, Dr Etienne warned that “this new wave of infections won’t be ‘mild’ for our health systems, as the Omicron variant is already challenging our health workforce and limiting care for other diseases.”
“In smaller island states, some hospitals were already strained by cases of the Delta variant, and now more hospitals face the prospect of being overwhelmed with cases,” she added.
The PAHO Director also highlighted the rise in re-infections. “Omicron infections can be lethal, especially for the immune-compromised and the unvaccinated,” she said, calling on individuals to keep each other safe by following public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, getting vaccinated, and getting tested when experiencing symptoms.
Overall vaccination coverage in Latin America and the Caribbean currently stands at almost 60% and many countries, including Chile, Cuba, and Argentina, boast some of the highest coverage rates in the world. However, the PAHO official said it is vital that equitable coverage remains a priority.
Over the past week, the bulk of new COVID-19 cases have been reported in the US, and cases are increasing in Canada’s eastern provinces.
In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have experienced hikes in new infections, and increases are also being seen in Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao, and Martinique.
In Central America, Belize and Panama are reporting the highest incidence of COVID and in South America, increases are particularly pronounced in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, as well as in Argentina and Paraguay, where new cases have increased by 300%.
In Guyana, cases have been rising at an alarming rate. Guyana Standard reported on Wednesday that Guyana recorded 1,000 new cases in one day, taking infections since March 2020 to 47,005 from 456,353 tests. Two more persons who tested positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have died. This takes the total number of deaths from the pandemic to 1,075.