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. – As the United States prepares to reach a devastating new milestone – half a million deaths from Covid-19 – officials say the country is also nearing the end of its brutal battle against the virus.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that Sunday’s hospitalizations for covid-19 fell below 1,000, for the first time since Nov. 16, and are now down by more than half since their January peak.
“Every day we get one step closer to eliminating and eradicating this pandemic,” Hogan said in a statement. “But we must remain vigilant and continue to do the things that keep us, our families and our communities safe.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Sunday the state saw its sixth consecutive week of declining COVID-19 cases. In a video message on Twitter he said that there is a “bright light in front of us”, with the help of vaccines.
But Americans shouldn’t relax just yet, experts have repeatedly warned.
“I’m very hopeful about where we are,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN on Sunday. “Now we have a couple of obstacles in the way.”
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Among the most dangerous potholes, nearly 1,700 cases of covid-19 variants first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the United States, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows ( CDC, for its acronym in English). The agency has said that it likely does not represent the total number of variant cases nationwide, but only those that have been found by testing positive samples for COVID-19.
The vast majority of those cases are the highly contagious B.1,1.7 variant that was first detected in the UK. Experts from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said over the weekend that while that variant likely accounts for less than 20% of current infections in the United States, that number is likely skyrockets to 80% at the end of April.
“Now is not the time to lower your guard”
With variants that threaten another increase in COVID-19 cases and vaccination numbers still too low to have a significant impact on the course of the pandemic, how the next few months unfold will largely depend on how the Americans, the IHME team said.
“Managing the epidemic in the next four months depends fundamentally on increasing vaccination, trying to increase the fraction of adults willing to be vaccinated above three-quarters, and strongly encouraging the continued use of masks and avoiding situations where transmission it is likely, such as going to dinner, going to bars or meetings in closed places with people outside the home, ”the team wrote in a briefing.
The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association also urged continued vigilance against the virus.
“With the new and more contagious variants of the virus circulating in the United States, now is not the time to lower our guard and reduce the measures we know will work to prevent more illness and death: wearing face masks, practicing physical distancing and hand washing They said in a joint statement.
Although vaccination has already begun in the United States, masks will continue to play an essential role in helping to slow the spread of the virus and therefore reduce the chances of further mutations occurring. Scientific evidence that masks work to prevent viral transmission has been clear for nearly a year, one expert noted.
“The evidence was quite convincing last March or April that the uniform use of face masks would reduce the transmission of this disease,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, during an interview Sunday on Axios on HBO. .
“A mask is nothing more than a life-saving medical device and yet it was categorized in many other ways that were not factual, scientific and frankly dangerous,” he added. “And I think it can be argued that tens of thousands of people died as a result.”
Fauci: After the weather problems, America will catch up on vaccines this week
The United States now also has an incredibly powerful tool against the virus: vaccines.
So far, more than 43.6 million Americans have received at least their first dose of a vaccine, CDC data shows, while about 18.8 million have received both doses.
That means that roughly 5.7% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, a far cry from the kind of percentage the country would need to come close to herd immunity.
Some states are still grappling with supply shortages, vaccine equity issues and, after last week, delays caused by severe winter storms.
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But Fauci projected on Sunday that the United States will catch up with those delays by the middle of this week.
“Obviously it’s a setback because I would like to see the constant stream of vaccines reaching people’s arms, but we can catch up quite well,” he told NBC.
“It’s a temporary setback, and when you just, you know, put your foot on the gas and really push, we’ll get it to where we need to be by the middle of the week,” he said.
To speed up vaccines, some experts have suggested that the United States consider delaying second doses of the vaccine so that people receive more first doses.
Both vaccines on the US market, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, require two doses, the second of which must be administered 21 days and 28 days after the first, respectively.
Fauci told CNN on Sunday that the United States is currently sticking to the vaccine schedule that is supported by data from clinical trials.
“Science points directly to continuing what we know … from the clinical trial,” he said.
– CNN’s Keith Allen, Jessica Firger, Naomi Thomas, Michael Nedelman, and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.