Health experts around the globe are sounding fresh alarms over the coronavirus pandemic, even though official counts of infections and deaths continue a downward trend.
The World Health Organization announced that over 496 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 6 million deaths had been reported globally as of Sunday.
While the numbers look staggering, the U.N. agency said recorded cases and deaths were continuing an overall decline in all regions. Still, the WHO has warned that many cases may be uncounted as countries relax safety measures and reduce mass testing.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said Tuesday that the accessibility of at-home COVID tests may also contribute to undercounting, as people may not report their results to health authorities. He said the Biden administration has other tools to stay on top of the pandemic.
“We’ve had undercounting throughout the whole pandemic, right? And that has always been an issue,” Jha told the “Today” show on NBC.
“We have community-based surveys that we’re doing of infections. Obviously we’re looking at hospitalizations. Those are still at very, very low levels,” he added. “So I do feel like we have a pretty good grip of the overall picture.”
Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who was formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified another reason why scaling back public testing could prove risky.
“If you don’t test, then you don’t know what variants you have,” Mokdad told The New York Times.
In its latest report, released on Sunday, the WHO said it’s tracking several omicron subvariants, including BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5, as well as the XE variant, a combination of the original omicron strain and BA.2.
BA.2 and the relaxation of public health measures has been driving an uptick in COVID cases in the U.S., following a similar trend in Europe.
“Obviously I never like to see infections rising,” Jha told “Today’s” Savannah Guthrie. “I think we’ve got to be careful, but I don’t think this is a moment where we have to be excessively concerned.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has advised Americans to weigh their own individual COVID risks.
“This is not going to be eradicated and it’s not going to be eliminated,” Fauci warned on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.