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Health Experts Say Worst of U.S. Pandemic is ‘Likely Behind Us’ But We ‘Can’t Drop Our Guards’

Health Experts Say Worst of U.S. Pandemic is ‘Likely Behind Us’ But We ‘Can’t Drop Our Guards’

The number of new COVID19 cases and deaths in the United States has been in a steady decline since early September, prompting many infectious disease experts to conclude that the worst impacts of the pandemic in America are probably in the past. But at the same time, those experts also caution that it’s not yet safe to abandon safeguards against the virus.

That’s because parts of the US population and much of the world remain unvaccinated, which could allow for outbreaks and dangerous new variants of the virus to emerge. In early September, the seven-day average of daily new cases in the United States was 166,000, according to data compiled by the New York Times. On 20 October that figure was 76,000, representing a 54% decrease. The seven-day average of new deaths has also declined by 26% over the last month, according to New York Times data.

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

While new cases and deaths have declined across much of the US, there have still been surges in some states. For example, Alaska, which trails the US average in its vaccination rate, has seen a significant increase in the number of hospitalizations and deaths over the last month, a trend that forced hospitals to postpone non-emergency surgeries and import staff from other states.

But not everyone in epidemiology is convinced that the US has turned a corner in this pandemic, in part because of uncertainty over when immunity from vaccines or infections wanes. The infectious disease experts hope more people in America will continue to get vaccinated. They also hope some safety measures become fixtures of society even after the pandemic. That includes an emphasis on handwashing – even though scientists determined that the virus rarely spreads through touch – and people no longer coming into the office when sick because they see it as a badge of honor.

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Health experts are also sympathetic to people simply feeling “done” with the pandemic, even if it’s not quite done with people. While the experts acknowledge that some people no longer want to hear that they need to be cautious, as one epidemiologist said, “The virus doesn’t care.”

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