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Injecting hope

Brighter outlook for US as vaccinations rise and deaths fall

Published:Friday | March 26, 2021 | 12:12 AM

Medical Assistant Keona Shepard holds up the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine as she prepares to administer it at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during the mass coronavirus vaccination on Thursday, March 4, 2021 in New Orleans.
Medical Assistant Keona Shepard holds up the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine as she prepares to administer it at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during the mass coronavirus vaccination on Thursday, March 4, 2021 in New Orleans.

More than three months into the United States vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture, with 70 per cent of Americans 65 and older receiving at least one dose of the vaccine and COVID-19 deaths dipping below 1,000 a day on average for the first time since November.

Also, dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks. And the White House said 27 million doses of both the one-shot and two-shot vaccines will be distributed next week, more than three times the number when President Joe Biden took office two months ago.

Still, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said on Wednesday that he wasn’t ready to declare victory.

“I’m often asked, are we turning the corner?” Fauci said at a White House briefing. “My response is really more like we are at the corner. Whether or not we’re going to be turning that corner still remains to be seen.”

What’s giving Fauci pause, he said, is that new cases remain at a stubbornly high level, at more than 50,000 per day. The US on Wednesday surpassed 30 million confirmed cases, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The number of deaths now stands at more than 545,000.

Nonetheless, the outlook in the US stands in stark contrast to the deteriorating situation in places like Brazil, which reported more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time Tuesday, and across Europe, where another wave of infections is leading to new lockdowns.

RELAXING PROTOCOLS

The gloom in Europe is compounded because the vaccine roll-out on the continent has been slowed by production delays and questions about the safety and effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s shot.

Public health experts in the US are taking every opportunity to warn that relaxing social distancing and other preventive measures could easily lead to another surge.

Dr Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, sees red flags in states lifting mask mandates, air travel roaring back and spring break crowds partying out of control in Florida.

“We’re getting closer to the exit ramp,” Topol said. “All we’re doing by having reopenings is jeopardizing our shot to get, finally, for the first time in the American pandemic, containment of the virus.”

Across the country are unmistakable signs of progress.

With more than 43 per cent of Americans 65 and older fully vaccinated, the number of older adults showing up in emergency rooms with COVID-19 is down significantly. Vaccinations overall have ramped up to three million shots per day.

Deaths per day in the US from COVID-19 have dropped to an average of 940, down from an all-time high of over 3,400 in mid-January.

Minnesota health officials on Monday reported no new deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in nearly a year. And in New Orleans, the Touro Infirmary hospital was not treating a single case for the first time since March 2020.

Nationwide, new cases and the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have plummeted over the past two months, though Walensky remains concerned that such progress seemed to stall in the past couple of weeks. New cases are running at more than 53,000 a day on average, down from a peak of a quarter-million in early January.