cases in the United States have dropped to levels not seen in more than 11 months, fueling hope that vaccination
campaigns are halting both severe COVID-19
cases and the virus's spread.
As the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continued to fall this week, pre-pandemic life in America 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 had imposed pandemic-related restrictions prepared to lift them.
The seven-day average for new cases fell below 30,000 per day this week, according to Rochelle Walensky
, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, and has not been this low since June 18, 2020. The average number of deaths over the last seven days also fell to 552 — a rate not seen since July last year.
“As each week passes and we continue to see progress, these numbers give me hope,” Walensky said at a news
conference on Friday.
According to the CDC
, more than 60% of people
over the age of 18 have received at least one vaccine, and nearly half are fully vaccinated. However, demand for vaccines
has dropped across much of the country. President Joe Biden
's administration is attempting to persuade others to sign up for shots, using an upbeat message that vaccines save lives.
On Friday, White House health officials waded into dating advice, collaborating with dating apps to provide a new reason to “swipe right” by including vaccination badges on profiles and in-app bonuses for people who have received their shots.
prizes of up to $5 million are being offered in Ohio
, New York
, and other states to entice people to get immunized.
Venues and events reopened across the country after being closed for much of the previous year.
Karen Stetz was preparing to welcome what she hoped would be a large crowd to the Grosse Pointe Art Fair on Lake St. Clair in Michigan
With natural ventilation from the lake and mask and capacity restrictions easing, Stetz was optimistic that artists who make their living traveling a show circuit that came to a halt last year would begin to bounce back.
“I feel like most people are ready to get out,” Stetz said by phone shortly before the fair opened. “It seems like people are eager, but it’s hard to know. I’m sure there will be a percentage of people who will wait until they’re comfortable.”
Thousands of happy revelers, many without masks
, competed for plastic beads and trinkets tossed from floats in Mobile, Alabama, on Friday night as the port city threw a Mardi Gras-style parade. However, only about a quarter of the county's population is fully vaccinated, and many went without masks, despite health officials' pleas for personal responsibility.
Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country (34% of people have received at least one dose), and it is part of a swath of Southern states where vaccine uptake has been slow. Health experts are concerned that low vaccination rates will give rise to new virus variants that are resistant to vaccinations.
“My main concern is new strains of the virus and the need to remain vigilant in the months ahead,” said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a public health
expert at Boston College.
A medical center in Louisiana
reported Friday that it had identified the state's first two cases of a COVID-19 variant that has spread widely since being discovered in India
. The COVID-19 variant has been classified as a "variant of concern" by the United Kingdom and the World Health Organization
, which means that there is some evidence that it spreads more easily between people, causes more severe disease, or may be lethal.
Though Landrigan called the nationwide drop in cases “the best news we’ve had on the pandemic” and demonstrated that vaccines are effective, he cautioned that people should be on the lookout for local outbreaks of new cases.
Many states have largely abandoned orders to wear masks and keep a safe distance from other people, while California
— the first state to declare a statewide shutdown after the virus emerged in March 2020 — is preparing to lift restrictions on social distancing and business
capacity next month.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health director, announced the decision on Friday, citing significantly fewer virus cases and increased vaccinations.
However, in Vermont, which has the highest percentage of people who have received one shot, Gov. Phil Scott has tied the lifting of restrictions to the vaccination rate, offering to lift all remaining restrictions before a July 4 deadline if 80% of those eligible get vaccinated.
Before loosening restrictions, Landrigan would like to see a nationwide vaccination rate of at least 85%, but for now, the sharp drop in cases gives him hope that pandemic-level infection rates will soon be a thing of the past.
“We may be able to declare this thing over by the 4th of July,” he said.