Lurching Between Crisis and Complacency
The corona virus is on the mend after a severe summer spike fueled by the highly dangerous Delta version.
The number of new infections in the United States is at 90,000 per day, a decrease of more than 40% since August. Hospitalizations and fatalities are also on the decline.
The crisis isn’t ended everywhere – Alaska’s position is particularly bad — but the national trend is apparent, and hopes are growing that the worst is finally behind us.
Over the last two years, the pandemic has hit the country in waves, inundating hospitals and then receding, only to reappear when Americans relax their guard.
It is difficult to disentangle the reasons behind the virus’s ebbs and flows, and even more difficult to forecast the future.
But, as winter approaches, there are legitimate reasons to be optimistic. Almost 70% of adults are completely vaccinated, and many children under the age of 12 will be able to get their injections in a matter of weeks. The first antiviral tablet for Covid-19 could be approved by federal regulators soon.
“We are clearly, without a doubt, in a better spot this year than we were last year,” said Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, director of Boston University’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research.
However, scientists warn that the pandemic is far from over. Every day, about 2,000 Americans die, and another winter surge is possible. Given how many Americans are still unvaccinated and how much is unknown, they believe it is too soon to forgo basic safeguards.
“We’ve done this before, when we let the foot off the pedal too soon,” Dr. Bhadelia explained. “It behoves us to be a little more cautious as we race toward the finish line.”
There was no Covid vaccine available when the first wave of infections hit the United States in early 2020, and no one was immune to the virus. The only option to flatten the proverbial curve was for individuals to adjust their behaviour.
That was the goal of the initial set of stay-at-home orders, company closures, mask mandates, and large-gathering bans. There is still dispute over which of these interventions was the most beneficial, but multiple studies indicate that they made a difference in terms of keeping people at home and slowing the development of case numbers.
Researchers believe that these measures, together with voluntary social distance, contributed to the early surges’ demise.
“And then the measures would be relaxed, and perhaps memories would fade,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, explained.
Cases would eventually resurface, and similar patterns would emerge. Businesses and municipal governments would reintroduce restrictions, while those who had begun to venture out into the world would huddle down and mask up.
According to the U.S. Covid-19 Trends and Impact Survey, which has queried an average of 44,000 Facebook users daily since April 2020, the percentage of Americans who reported going to bars or restaurants or attending major events fell during last winter’s increase.
“Public awareness shapes the curve,” Dr. Nuzzo explained. “We’re bouncing back and forth between crisis and complacency.”
Delta arrived at a time of great pandemic tiredness, when many vaccinated Americans thought they could finally unwind. According to the data, the new variation caused less severe behavioural change than earlier waves.
According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which aggregates data from several sources, only 23% of Americans indicated they always used a mask in public in mid-July, the lowest rate since March 2020.
By Aug. 31, when the Delta wave was at its apex, that figure had grown to 41%, albeit it remained much behind the 77 percent who reported using masks during the winter surge.
“If you look around, people are much more living a normal or pre-Covid existence,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, the institute’s director.
Even minor behavioural adjustments can help limit transmission, especially when combined, and Delta induced changes at both the individual and organisational levels. Schools implemented increased measures, businesses postponed reopenings, and organisations cancelled activities, limiting the virus’s ability to spread.
Meanwhile, cooler autumn weather arrived, allowing Americans in many parts of the country to interact outside, where the virus is less likely to spread.