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Bearish and bullish COVID-19 developments: Delta doubles risk of hospitalization; a booster cuts the risk by 90%

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By Marshall L. Stocker, Ph.D., CFACo-Director, Portfolio Manager Emerging Markets Team, Eaton Vance Management

Boston - Upon the release of an Israeli study in that indicates that a third COVID-19 vaccination shot appeared to significantly reduce severe illness ten-fold, let's review the latest health policy responses and the bearish or bullish developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health policy responses

  • Abu Dhabi will return to 100% workplace capacity on September 5. Unvaccinated employees will need to test once every seven days.
  • The European Union on Friday moved to reinstate COVID travel restrictions like quarantine and testing requirements for unvaccinated citizens of the United States and five other countries.
  • The European Union is also set to recommend a ban on nonessential travel from the U.S. because of the spread of COVID-19, diplomats said on Sunday.
  • "Australia is ending its zero-COVID strategy," reported The Economist after the country's Prime Minister said "This is not a sustainable way to live in this country."
  • New York State removed the religious exemption for healthcare workers seeking to avoid mandated vaccination.
  • A lengthy Science research article calls for protocols to be adjusted so as to reflect that COVID-19 may predominantly transmit through respiratory aerosols. The authors suggest attention to ventilation, airflows, mask fit and type, air filtration, and UV disinfection, noting, for example, that for some aerosols, filtration efficiency decreases by 50% for a relative mask leak area of 1%. This suggests cloth masks are not particularly useful. N95s are much better. The authors also write that six feet of physical distancing is not enough to limit aerosol transmission.

Bearish virus developments

  • About 11.1 million Americans are living with long COVID-19, according to new estimates from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 3% of all people in California are believed to have or had long-COVID. Overall, the group models 30% of COVID-19 survivors as having long-COVID.
  • Florida reported 1,727 COVID-19 deaths in its latest weekly report, the most on record.
  • Hospitals in parts of the U.S. South are running out of oxygen supply.
  • People who contract the delta variant of COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized as those infected with the alpha strain, according to a U.K. study.
  • A study of 1,276 people hospitalized in Wuhan for COVID-19 in the pandemic's opening months reveals that a full year later, almost half continued to report at least one lingering health problem that is now considered a symptom of long COVID. "This is not good news," said David Putrino, a rehabilitation specialist who works with COVID long haulers at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "If you run the numbers here, about one-third of the group that had persistent symptoms are getting better after 12 months, while two-thirds are not."

Bullish virus developments

  • An Israeli study indicates that a third COVID-19 vaccination shot appeared to significantly reduce severe illness ten-fold, beginning 12 days after the booster. The authors also found a 5-fold reduction against confirmed infection.
  • Bloomberg reported that people who recovered from a bout of COVID-19 during one of the earlier waves of the pandemic appear to have a lower risk of contracting the delta variant than those who received two doses of the vaccine from Pfizer. The pre-print study from researchers in Israel contrasts with earlier studies, which showed that immunizations offered better protection than an earlier infection, though those studies were not of exposures to the Delta variant.
  • Mexican researchers say they created a facemask that neutralizes COVID-19. They are producing 200 masks per day.

Other developments

  • The U.S. intelligence community reached an inconclusive assessment about the origin of the COVID-19 virus following a 90-day investigation. CNN reported that "All agencies assess that two hypotheses are plausible: natural exposure to an infected animal and laboratory-associated incident... One agency assessed with moderate confidence, however, that the first human infection most likely was the result of a lab-associated incident."

Source of all data: Eaton Vance Research as of August 30, 2021 unless otherwise specified.