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As COVID cases continue to rise in the Americas, PAHO Director urges countries to ‘take stock of the numbers and act’

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Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2022. 12:18 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in its weekly conference call with journalists has urged countries to respond with increased 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.

Director Carissa Etienne said more than 918 thousand new cases were reported across the Americas, an increase of 27.2 percent. COVID-19 hospitalizations increased in 18 countries, and admissions to Intensive Care Units rose in 13 countries and territories.

The Director noted that while many countries have abandoned public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing as transmission was reduced, only 14 countries in the Americas have passed 70 percent of vaccination coverage, leaving far too many people remain unprotected. That includes those at risk of severe disease, including the elderly, pregnant women, and people with preexisting conditions.

“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.

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