The virus that causes COVID-19 has begun to retreat, just a little bit, in the United States
As experts predicted, the pandemic works on less of a light switch than a dimmer – ringing back and forth in different pockets of the country. For once, however, it looks like the country’s pandemic damper is turning in the right direction.
“I think we can say with confidence that the worst is behind us, and that prevents a crazy unforeseen variant that neither of us expects to see,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
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“We will not see the kind of suffering and death we have seen during the holidays. I think we are in much better shape on the way forward,”
More than half of the country – 26 states – have reported declining case numbers in the past week with new cases down 18 percent. Deaths and hospitalizations are also down. Even Michigan, the U.S. hotspot this spring, has seen its daily drop fall by more than 36 percent, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We think this is related to increased vaccination, more people are taking caution, and therefore I am cautiously optimistic that we are turning the corner,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky to GMA this week.
The Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, which carries out its own weekly forecast, called it “clear evidence that transmission is falling” and predicted that the trend would continue.
“Much of the improvement can be attributed to rising vaccination rates among younger and middle-aged adults,” the hospital’s PolicyLab concluded this week.
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The cautious optimism comes with big reservations. Health experts predict that the nearly 100 million Americans who are fully vaccinated are not close enough to crush the pandemic. While it represents about 30 percent of the population, it is estimated that about 70-85 percent of the country would need to be protected for “herd immunity” to take effect. Previous infection of the virus may also not count because it is unknown how long the immunity lasts.
In Oregon, for example, officials warned that cases were rising and hospitalizations doubled in the past two weeks, a trend driven by younger unvaccinated residents.
As the US situation improves, the global situation is also still thin. India is deteriorating and its health system is being destroyed by a massive outbreak in the spring. Other countries have also struggled to limit outbreaks, making it more likely that when the virus spreads uncontrollably, new variants will form.
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“This can happen in a number of countries, in all countries, if we fail our guard. I am not saying that India has failed its guard, but I am saying that we are in a fragile situation,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical director for COVID-19, at a press conference this week.
So far, the vaccines offered in the United States are believed to provide protection against global variants. But the worst case scenario, health experts say, is that a new strain will develop abroad that is wiser to avoid the body’s immune system and cut away from the vaccine’s protection.
In other words, it is possible that a smaller version of the pandemic drags on for several months in a kind of game Whack-a-Mole. Societies with high vaccination rates would have greater freedom from the virus, while areas with more restraint might struggle with the flare-up. If there are global variants, as it is almost certain when the journey resumes, the United States will struggle to deliver booster shots.
Even with all the warnings that the pandemic is not over, signs of life are still returning. Louisiana convened its state fair Thursday after canceling last fall and promising another festival in the fall. California’s Disneyland reopened Friday, and water parks planned to reopen this summer after last year’s lost season.
Perhaps the biggest sign of life returning to the United States was the announcement that New York City would fully reopen on July 1 with major Broadway productions expected this fall.
“This is going to be the summer in New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio declared triumphantly this week. “I think people will flock to New York City because they want to live again.”
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Other local officials are ready to declare the pandemic over, even with about 50,000 cases averaging a day in the country.
“A widely available vaccine is changing everything, and it’s a new season in Tennessee,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said. “I am not renewing any public health orders because COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency in our state.”
Walensky told reporters Friday that there is still a need to go slow.
“This virus has fooled us before, so I want to see how it goes before I make further estimates of what will happen in a few months,” she said.
ABC News’ Matthew Vann, Arielle Mitropoulos and Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.
‘The worst is behind us’: COVID virus ebbs, giving hope to a nation plagued by disease originally featured on abcnews.go.com