COVID-19 cases plummet to lowest levels in US due to vaccine rollout
New coronavirus cases across the United States have tumbled to rates not seen in more than 11 months, sparking optimism that vaccination campaigns are stemming both severe COVID-19 cases and the spread of the virus.
As cases, hospitalisations and deaths steadily dropped this week, pre-pandemic life in America has largely resumed. Hugs and unmasked crowds returned to the White House, a Mardi Gras-style parade marched through Alabama’s port city of Mobile, and even states that have stuck to pandemic-related restrictions readied to drop them.
However, health experts also cautioned that not enough Americans have been vaccinated to completely extinguish the virus, leaving the potential for new variants that could extend the pandemic.
As the seven-day average for new cases dropped below 30,000 per day this week, Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, pointed out cases have not been this low since June 18, 2020. The average number of deaths over the last seven days also dropped to 552 — a rate not seen since July last year. It’s a dramatic drop since the pandemic hit a devastating crescendo in January.
“As each week passes and as we continue to see progress, these data give me hope,” Walensky said on Friday at a news conference.
Health experts credit an efficient rollout of vaccines for the turnaround. More than 60% of people over 18 have received at least one shot, and almost half are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. But demand for vaccines has dropped across much of the country. President Joe Biden’s administration is trying to convince other Americans to sign up for shots, using an upbeat message that vaccines offer a return to normal life.
White House health officials on Friday even waded into offering dating advice. They are teaming up with dating apps to offer a new reason to “swipe right” by featuring vaccination badges on profiles and in-app bonuses for people who have gotten their shots.
Ohio, New York, Oregon and other states are enticing people to get vaccinated through lottery prizes of up to $5 million.
Across the country, venues and events reopened after shuttering for much of the last year.
Alabama’s vaccination rate — 34% of people have received at least one dose — is one of the lowest in the country. It’s part of a swath of Southern states where vaccine uptake has been slow. Health experts worry that areas with low vaccination rates could give rise to new virus variants that are more resistant to vaccinations.
“My biggest concern is new strains of the virus and the need to remain vigilant in the months ahead,” said Boston College public health expert Dr. Philip J. Landrigan.
Many states have largely dropped orders to wear masks and stay distanced from other people. Meanwhile, even places such as California — the first state to issue a statewide shutdown as the virus emerged in March 2020 — prepared to remove restrictions on social distancing and business capacity next month.
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