Less than six months ago, the coronavirus crisis was at its most deadly point. Now, with more than half the country at least partially vaccinated, Americans are seeing what life looks like at the other side of the curve.
New daily COVID-19 infections have declined dramatically in the United States, recently hitting their lowest numbers since March of 2020.
As of June 3, cases were down 94 percent from their peak in January of this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitalizations and deaths have also dropped significantly, with the seven-day average of daily deaths dropping to 363, compared to the thousands of fatalities the nation endured every day at the start of the year.
During a White House COVID Task Force briefing ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reiterated that fully vaccinated people could safely spend time unmasked with their loved ones.
“All of this is possible because vaccinations are going up, and cases and risk of community transmission across the country are going down,” Walensky said.
But she emphasized that unvaccinated people are still encouraged to take precautions like wearing masks and keeping their distance from others in public to reduce their chances of contracting the coronavirus. So far there is no evidence that loosening the mask guidance has led to an increase in transmission, and it may have boosted interest in getting vaccinated.
As of June 7, more than half of adults in the U.S. were fully vaccinated, and nearly 64 percent had received at least one dose. President Joe Biden’s goal is for 70 percent of all adults nationwide at least partially vaccinated by the July 4th holiday. He has called for a “month of action” during June to urge more Americans to get vaccinated ahead of that target.
“All over the world, people are desperate to get a shot that every American can get at their neighborhood drug store at no cost, with no wait,” Biden said during a speech in which he encouraged those who haven’t gotten vaccinated to do so.
Pushing the nation over Biden’s 70 percent threshold will require overcoming factors that make it difficult to get the vaccine, or which have persuaded some people to delay vaccination or avoid it altogether.
The divide in how Americans view COVID vaccines runs largely along political lines. According to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, 41 percent of Republicans said they did not intend to get vaccinated, compared to just 4 percent of Democrats.
State governments across the country have rolled out incentives — from free beers to lottery drawings to tickets to sporting events and concerts — all aimed at sweetening the deal for those who aren’t yet sold on getting their shots. The Biden administration has followed suit by facilitating free child care for parents who need a safe place for their kids to go while they get vaccinated or recover from short-term side effects.
The White House is also launching new initiatives to bolster outreach in communities where vaccine hesitancy is common, and where residents who do want a shot may struggle to find one. According to the Associated Press, the administration is mirroring a Maryland program that equips Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons with doses and educational resources.
Walensky has also touted the importance of vaccinating young people like those between the ages of 12 to 15, an age group for whom Pfizer’s COVID vaccine was recently authorized. More than 200 adolescents were hospitalized with COVID during the first three months of the year. Nearly one-third required intensive care and some were put on ventilators. Those outcomes, Walensky emphasized, were “preventable.”
“I strongly encourage parents to get their teens vaccinated, as I did mine,” Walensky said. She added that parents can contact medical professionals like their local pharmacists or health care department with any questions they may have.