The Pandemic Appears to Be Sputtering Out in the U.S.

The Pandemic Appears to Be Sputtering Out in the U.S.
A sign greeting people who arrive to line up for covid-19 vaccines at Nassau Community College on January 10, 2021 in Garden City, New York. (Photo: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

The covid-19 pandemic is clearly and rapidly losing ground in the U.S. Daily new cases have continued to drop over the past few weeks, even as much of the country has begun to lift restrictions on distancing and mask-wearing. And while the vaccine rollout had slowed since its peak in April, it’s more recently picked up following the authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 12.

According to the tracker set up by NewsNodes, the U.S. reported 17,487 cases on Sunday, May 17 — the lowest number reported since June 2020, just prior to the summer 2020 surge. Weekend reporting is traditionally lower than other days, but the numbers are still lower than the weekend before and reflect a steadily declining trend in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths since mid-April.

Meanwhile, more than 2.7 million Americans were vaccinated Sunday, including 1.2 million people who received their first dose. Many of these first-timers were teens between the ages of 12 and 15, less than a week after the FDA authorised the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the age group. Just over 47% of the country has gotten at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine, with 56% of Americans over age 12 and nearly 85% of seniors over 65 being at least partially vaccinated.

To be clear, the overall numbers are still too high. More than 30,000 Americans remain hospitalized, while hundreds of new deaths are still reported daily. And in some areas of the country, particularly in disadvantaged communities, vaccine uptake is far lower than the average, often due to a lack of access to vaccination rather than hesitancy. Globally, many countries are still experiencing renewed and horrific waves of the pandemic, with nowhere near the vaccine supply of countries like the U.S.

But our progress and continued trends should help to alleviate people’s concerns over recent changes in mask-wearing guidelines set last week by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The changes relaxed most of the mask-wearing recommendations for fully vaccinated people, with the exception of mass transit and certain other high-risk locations like hospitals. These changes have already started to trickle down to states and cities, with some, including North Carolina, lifting their mandates for fully vaccinated people ahead of schedule. Private businesses are starting to follow suit as well, though some are still maintaining indoor masking mandates for now.

Many experts have criticised the messaging and timing of the CDC’s new guidelines, even as they’ve argued that fully vaccinated individuals probably don’t need to wear masks. Scientists will also need to remain on guard for new variants or mutations that could upend the immunity provided by vaccines, while boosters may be needed regardless, if vaccine-provided or disease-acquired immunity fades over time. But as the pandemic’s spread continues to wane as more people become vaccinated, it’s likely that every American’s personal risk of covid-19 will shrink drastically by the summer, vaccinated or not.