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We are not out of the woods yet

The Washington Post

Spring [is here], 121 million doses of vaccine have been administered, and Americans are eager to get back to normal after a year of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. President Biden recently raised the prospect of a festive Independence Day. What could go wrong?

Hopefully, nothing will. But there are dark clouds amid the rosy scenarios. The big decline in viral spread evident in January and early February has stalled. The pandemic’s winter surge tapered off into a stubborn plateau in the national rate of new daily infections, which has been running at about 53,000 on a seven-day average. That is well above the troughs of last summer and autumn. Lurking in the background is the B.1.1.7 variant, which is about 50 percent more transmissible and possibly more lethal; it now appears to be igniting fresh outbreaks in some states. Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated that this variant may now comprise 20 to 30 percent of all U.S. infections, setting the table for sudden spikes like those already seen in Britain and Europe.

In the past week or so, cases started climbing again in 14 states.

The spikes and plateau suggest the pandemic is not over yet, and the virus could flare anew. The worst-case scenario would be a fourth wave, requiring widespread return to closures and restrictions. That is not a certainty. The rollout of vaccines continues to build a firewall against the pandemic. The vaccines appear to work well against the B.1.1.7 variant. Nearly 24 percent of the U.S. population has now received at least one dose, and 13 percent has received two. Among the elderly — the most vulnerable part of the population — 68 percent of those over 65 years old have received at least one dose, and 40.8 percent have received two.

But as Dr. Fauci pointed out, this is an inflection point, and it is “quite risky to declare victory before you have the level of infection in the community to a much, much lower level than 53,000 cases per day.” Decisions in many states to reopen businesses, especially bars and restaurants, and to drop mask mandates, are misguided and premature, and could trigger a surge in cases.

If you want a pleasant summer, keep your guard up and mask on during the last miles of the long journey to normal.

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