It has been 14 months since the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Washington State. The U.S. count of confirmed cases has just moved above 30 million at 30,011,181, up 105,668 in the last day. Deaths have reached 547,453, up 2,322 in the last day. Unfortunately, these daily numbers, which have dropped over the last three months, have started to rise at an alarming rate again. Public health officials and epidemiologists worry America is about to hit the fourth wave in the spread of the disease.
Vaccination rates have risen quickly in the last three weeks. The Biden Administration says it will have enough vaccine for all Americans by May 1 and is running ahead of that timetable. At this point, 24% of Americans have received at least one dose and 13% have been fully vaccinated. Nationwide, 156,734,555 doses have been delivered and 121,441,497 shots have been given.
There are two challenges to further slowing the spread of the disease. The first is variants, some of which may spread faster than the version which infected most people from last January until recently. The CDC tracks three of these for the public–the B.1.1.7, the B.1.351, and the P.1 variant. There are variants in all 50 states, and epidemiologists believe that there are many more than these three. And, public health offices believe that as many as 30% of new cases in the U.S. are from the B.1.1.7 variant.
The other challenge is the opening up of parts of the U.S. Texas, the second largest state by population is a case in point. The governor has dropped the state’s mask mandate, and allowed a renewal of social gatherings, and opened businesses. Public health officials worry this may cause a fourth wave of the disease. As a matter of fact, daily confirmed case rates and daily fatal cases have started to rise again in some states and counties. Recently, officials in Miami shut down college student parties. People on Spring Break were running superspreader events.
Because of reopening, and the fact that most Americans have still not been vaccinated, cases in many states have started to rise again. The New York Times tracks case data by state. The newspaper currently lists 21 states and the District of Columbia as places where cases are “higher and staying high”. Just as troubling, the two states at the top of the list are New Jersey and New York, where the “first wave”, in March and April, was devastating.
At 30 million, about 8% of Americans have been infected. Scientists believe that number is too low, perhaps by half. This is due to poor testing and asymptomatic cases.
Regardless of the exact count, the disease is surging again, and 30 million have started to recede into the rearview mirror.