A year after the coronavirus pandemic, life in America is almost unrecognizable. Noses and mouths are hidden from the public, gatherings remain banned in many states, kitchen and dining tables still function as work cubicles and classrooms, and take-out submarines are still used for a night on the town. How long will the world stay like this? There are many moving parts – some moving towards normal, others staying in pandemic mode.
Here’s what we know so far.
By the numbers
Fall rates are falling in the US, but they follow the deadliest month yet. Covid-19 deaths peaked on February 4 with a 7-day moving average of 5,189 – well above pre-holiday levels. Globally, the New York Times reports that new cases have halved from their January 11th peak.
Experts are skeptical that the decline will continue. Fall attacks, from which the country is still recovering, came after the autumn break. Spring holidays like Easter are not far away and many states have started easing restrictions. The Institute of Health Metrics and Assessment predicts that if the government and the public fail to adhere to safety measures, a significant increase could wait.
The virus itself could pose an even greater challenge.
The impending danger
The outlook is not all bright. Several mutated Covid-19 variants, some of which are more contagious or dangerous, are spreading around the world. We are currently investigating how these variants will affect the course of the pandemic.
As of February 21, 44 states reported cases of the British variant, 10 states the South African tribe and only 4 the Brazilian variant. Almost a quarter of the cases in the UK were in Florida.
The cavalry could come
With two vaccines on sale and another due for review by an FDA committee this Friday, the path to herd immunity could have fewer obstacles. On Friday, the Agency’s Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Related Biological Products will review the emergency use authorization submitted by Janssen Biotech of Johnson & Johnson. While this vaccine currently only requires a single dose, the company is looking to see if a second dose could improve its effectiveness.
And that path to herd immunity could become shorter if Pfizer’s latest application to the FDA is approved as expected. For the past nine months, Pfizer has kept a record of the stability of its vaccine when stored at normal temperature by pharmacy standards: -25 ° C to -15 ° C (-13 ° F to 5 ° F). (Temperatures between -112 ° F and -76 ° F are now required.) Pfizer is asking the FDA for permission to allow the vaccine to be stored in warmer temperatures for up to two weeks. If the FDA approves the application, Pfizer has announced that it will open the door to easier distribution to areas and facilities without dedicated freezers.
Number of people vaccinated: By mid-February, over 34 million Americans had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and over 11 million had completed both doses.
The weekly vaccine distribution is expected to increase by 20% from mid-February. The Biden government also signed a contract for an additional 200 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, expanding its offering to vaccinate 300 million people.
A moving target
When will enough vaccines be available for everyone? The official answer remains on the move. After spearheading April’s broad availability targets for weeks, Anthony Fauci, MD, the White House chief medical officer, now says vaccinations will increase in May. Most Americans, he told CNN, will be vaccinated by the end of summer.
The school question
President Biden has made reopening schools a priority, aiming to return to face-to-face teaching in most elementary and middle schools within 100 days of his inauguration. Reopening deadlines vary by jurisdiction as teachers unions, public health officials, concerned parents and school authorities struggle to reach consensus.
The role schools play in spreading Covid-19 is hotly debated. Some evidence suggests that the fall rates in schools are no higher than in surrounding communities. A recent CDC weekly report on morbidity and mortality tracked an outbreak in Georgia, where nine separate clusters emerged in six elementary schools. Two clusters came from the educator-to-educator transfer and the subsequent educator-to-student cases, which is half of the cases recorded.
The Biden government believes schools can reopen all day without the vaccination of all teachers, with Dr. Fauci even says that waiting for vaccinations is “impractical”. President Biden has advocated putting teachers on the priority list, but has not looked at waiting for vaccinations before reopening.
A ripple effect
Efforts to control the spread of Covid have reduced the prevalence of other diseases. The flu season was all but averted this year, supposedly due to better hygiene and fewer chances of the annual disease spreading.
Treatments developed for Covid-19 are also expected to have an impact on future rounds of respiratory illness. GlaxoSmithKlein and Vir Biotechnology have announced the expansion of their Covid-19 alliance to work on treatments for flu and other respiratory diseases.
Sean Marsala is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based health journalist. He loves technology, usually reads, surfs the internet, and explores virtual worlds.