The rate of the spread of COVID-19 had slowed across America. Despite a new surge, increases in daily fatal and confirmed cases are still about half what they were three months ago. Nevertheless, 576,265 Americans had died as of Friday, which is about 20% of the world’s total. The global death total just moved above a staggering 3 million. Confirmed cases have reached 32,185,302 in the United States, or about 23% of the global number. Hospitalizations, which were over 100,000 a day during the peak wave, have dropped into the thousands.
Variants have become a large part of the conversation among public health officials and epidemiologists. One variant, first identified in the United Kingdom and known as B.1.1.7, is more transmissible than the strain that was dominant in the United States over most of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also officially tracks these other variants: B.1.351, P.1, B.1.427 and B.1.429. Worries are that some may be more deadly than others and that vaccines may not protect against one or more variants.
Scientists believe that new variants will continue to appear, some of which may originate in America and others that may come from overseas. Tuesday, it was announced that “Scientists at the Texas A&M University Global Health Research Complex (GHRC) have identified a variant of the COVID-19 virus — ‘BV-1’ — that could present a new challenge to public health.”
At this point, according to The New York Times, 41% of Americans have been given at least one dose of a vaccine, and 27% are fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 286,095,185 doses have been delivered, and from those 222,322,230 shots have been given, or about 78%.
There has been a debate among scientists and doctors about when people will need additional doses. Some of this has to do with how effective vaccines are against variants.
The major weapons against the spread of the disease remain mask-wearing and social distancing. The question comes up constantly about when those practices may end. The most recent comment from CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is that scientists are exploring whether people can stop wearing masks outdoors. According to The Daily Mail:
In an appearance on NBC’s TODAY show on Thursday, Dr Rochelle Walensky said officials is currently studying evidence to determine if Americans are at risk of catching COVID-19 if they are outdoors and not close to people.
She elaborated that this recommendation will not happen until a larger part of the population has been vaccinated and there is a sharp drop in deaths. She added:
“While we are really trying to scale up vaccination, we have this complex message that we still have hotspots in this country and we will be looking at the outdoor masking question, but it’s also in the context of the fact that we still have people who are dying of Covid.”
While the day may come when people will not have to wear masks outdoors, that day is not around the corner.