US outlook improving as vaccinations rise and deaths fall but experts caution against declaring victory

U.S.

FILE – In this March 23, 2021, file photo, Anita Shetty, left, vaccinates Doris Lucas with a Pfizer vaccine in Atlanta. More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture as dozens of states have thrown open vaccinations to all adults or are planning to do so in a matter of weeks. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

(NewsNation Now) — More than three months into the U.S. vaccination drive, many of the numbers paint an increasingly encouraging picture, with 70% 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.

“These vaccines work. We’re seeing it in the data,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week.

The outlook in the U.S. 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 and where the vaccine rollout on the continent has been slowed by production delays and questions about the safety and effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s shot.

At the same time, Walensky and other public health experts in the U.S. are warning it’s too early to declare victory and that relaxing social distancing and other measures could easily lead to another surge.

Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t ready to say the nation has turned the corner on the coronavirus pandemic, despite about 2.5 million Americans getting vaccinated each day.

FILE – In this Feb. 25, 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The government’s top infectious disease expert says he often gets asked that question.

His response: “We are at the corner. Whether we or not we are going to be turning the corner remains to be seen.”

At the White House coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Fauci says the main challenge remains a stubbornly high level of new daily cases in the country. It’s hovering around an average of 55,000 and up slightly in recent days. While that is clearly much better than the 250,000 daily cases at the peak of the winter wave, it’s uncomfortably close to levels seen during the COVID wave of last summer.

“When you are at that level, I don’t think you can declare victory and say you have turned the corner,” Fauci adds.

On the plus side, along with the growing level of vaccinations, Fauci is underscoring recent studies that show negligible rates of coronavirus infection among fully vaccinated people. There’s also been a significant drop in the number of people 65 and older going to the emergency room with COVID-19. That’s the age group most vulnerable to the disease.

Across the country are unmistakable signs of progress.

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.

Biden has pushed for states to make all adults eligible to be vaccinated by May 1. A least a half-dozen states, including Texas, Arizona and Georgia, are opening up vaccinations to everyone over 16. At least 20 other states have pledged to do so in the next few weeks.

Microsoft, which employs more than 50,000 people at its global headquarters in suburban Seattle, has said it will start bringing back workers on March 29 and reopen installations that have been closed for nearly a year.

New York City’s 80,000 municipal employees, who have been working remotely during the pandemic, will return to their offices starting May 3.

The number of daily travelers at U.S. airports has consistently topped 1 million over the past week and a half amid spring break at many colleges which health experts warn may lead to an uptick in cases.

Also, states such as Michigan and Florida are seeing rising cases. And the favorable downward trends in some of the most populous states are concealing an increase in case numbers in some smaller ones, said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

He said the more contagious variant that originated in Britain has now been identified in every state.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. All reporting by Julie Watson and Carla K. Johnson. AP journalists Terry Tang and Suman Naishadham contributed from Phoenix.

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