When you take a look at the recent COVID data, it’s hard not to be optimistic. For starters, the coronavirus infection rate has been on a steady decline since early January. As it stands now, the US is seeing about 55,000 new COVID cases every single day, a huge improvement from two months ago when the US was seeing an average of 220,00 new infections every day.
Second, the vaccination effort in the US continues to pick up steam with each passing week. To date, nearly 72 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose while about 38 million people have been fully vaccinated. What’s more, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have all pledged to drastically boost their respective vaccine shipments throughout March and April. If all goes according to plan, there will be enough doses to vaccinate every American by May.
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So while it’s easy to get excited about the prospect of a return to normalcy, Dr. Anthony Fauci has made it clear in recent weeks that the US isn’t entirely out of the woods just yet. Not only does the US have to contend with more contagious COVID variants from the UK and South Africa, but a hyperaggressive relaxation of COVID safety guidelines could spur additional outbreaks in the near future.
As a prime example, Texas Governor Greg Abbot issued an Executive Order two weeks ago which lifts the mask mandate across the state while also allowing restaurants and other businesses to operate at 100% capacity.
Abbot’s order left many people confused, if only because wearing a mask is far from burdensome and has been shown to drastically reduce the likelihood of COVID transmission.
“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbot said earlier this month. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
In the wake of Texas’ decision, Dr. Fauci during a recent appearance on Fox News Sunday said that Texas runs the risk of enduring yet another COVID outbreak.
“I think it’s risky and potentially dangerous,” Fauci said. “If you look at the numbers, we are not out of the woods yet. When you pull back on all mitigation methods, on all public health guidelines, that’s when you get into trouble.”
Fauci also mentioned that while the cumulative number of COVID cases is way down, the infection rate in some states has plateaued in recent weeks.
What’s happening in New York right now is a perfect representation of this phenomenon. After a peak infection rate of 16,300 new cases per day back in early January, New York is now seeing about 7,000 new infections per day. So while that’s a promising decline, the infection rate in the state has been hovering between 7,000 and 8,000 for more than a month now.
“When you see a plateauing at a level of anywhere between 50 and 65,000 cases per day, that is absolutely no time to declare victory,” Fauci explained. “Because we know from previous surges that we’ve had over the year, that when you see that leveling off at a high level, there’s always a risk of a surge back up. And in fact, unfortunately, that’s exactly what is happening in Europe right now. They always seem to be a few weeks ahead of us in the dynamics of the outbreak.”
What this means for Texas, of course, remains to be seen. The good news, though, is that the COVID infection rate in the state has dropped by 40% over the last two weeks alone. Additionally, the COVID death rate and hospitalization rate have dropped by 29% and 31% during that same time frame.
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