‘Turning the Corner’: U.S. Covid Outlook Reaches Most Hopeful Point Yet

Cases and deaths have dipped, and vaccinations make scientists hopeful, even as variants mean the coronavirus is here to stay.



By Julie Bosman and Sarah Mervosh

After weeks of coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, the worst Covid-19 hot spot in the nation, hospitalizations are finally falling.

On some recent days, entire states, including Wisconsin and West Virginia, have reported zero new coronavirus deaths — a brief but promising respite from the onslaught of the past year.

And in New York and Chicago, officials encouraged by the recent progress have confidently vowed to fully reopen in the coming weeks, conjuring images of a vibrant summer of concerts, sporting events and packed restaurants revving cities back to life.

Americans have entered a new, hopeful phase of the pandemic. Buoyed by a sense that the coronavirus is waning, in part because of vaccinations, more people are shrugging off masks, venturing into restaurants and returning to their prepandemic routines. Mayors, governors and other local officials — once the bearers of grim news about the virus’s toll and strict rules for businesses — have joined in the newfound optimism, rapidly loosening restrictions.

Public health experts remain cautious, but said that while they still expect significant local and regional surges in the coming weeks, they do not think they will be as widespread or reach past peaks.

“We’re clearly turning the corner,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Across the country, the outlook for the pandemic has indeed improved, putting the United States in its best position against the virus yet. The nation is recording about 49,000 new cases a day, the lowest number since early October, and hospitalizations have plateaued at around 40,000, a similar level as the early fall. Nationwide, deaths are hovering around 700 a day, down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January.

In the past, lulls in the pandemic were short-lived, giving way to the surge across the Sun Belt last summer, and the painful outbreak that stretched across the United States this winter.

But now, there is one crucial difference: More than half of American adults — 148 million people — have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, perhaps the biggest reason experts are optimistic that the improved outlook may last. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have also fallen at a time when the weather is getting warmer, which, in many places, will allow people to spend more time outdoors, where the virus spreads less easily.

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