The latest coronavirus wave in the United States driven by the Delta variant could soon peak, but experts warn against complacency and expect the virus will be part of everyday life for years to come.
The seven-day-average of daily cases as of Monday was 172,000, its highest level of this surge even as the growth rate is slowing and cases are headed down in most states, according to data compiled by the Covid Act Now tracker.
But more than 1,800 people are still dying a day, and over 100,000 remain hospitalized with severe Covid — a grim reminder of the challenges authorities have faced in getting enough Americans vaccinated in the face of misinformation and a polarized political climate.
Bhakti Hansoti, an associate professor in emergency medicine at John Hopkins University and expert in Covid critical care, told AFP she saw the US following a similar trajectory to India.
Countries in western Europe have also seen similar downturns in their Delta surges.
But while Hansoti breathed a sigh of relief when the spring wave ended, “I’m a little hesitant this time around,” she admitted.
The possible emergence of newer variants of concern and the advent of colder weather leading to more socialization indoors could lead to a rebound, “unless we learn from the lessons of the fourth wave.”
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at University of Saskatchewan in Canada, added she was not certain the fourth wave was over.
“If you look at the fall-winter wave, there were periods in which there was a steep exponential increase, and then it looked like it was falling — and then there would be another increase.”
To ensure gains are sustained, rapidly increasing the number of people vaccinated is vital. Currently 63.1 percent of the eligible population over-12 are fully vaccinated, or 54 percent of the total population.
This places the United States well behind global leaders like Portugal and the UAE (81 and 79 percent fully vaccinated), despite its abundance of shots.
The administration of President Joe Biden last week announced a number of new measures to ramp up the immunization campaign, including new vaccine requirements on companies of over 100 employees, but the impact is yet to be clearly seen.
Beyond vaccinations, experts want to see other interventions continue.
Thomas Tsai, a surgeon and health policy researcher at Harvard, said hotspots need to follow through on masking, adding that the US should also look to other countries that have adopted widespread rapid testing for schools and businesses.
Such tests are available either for free or at a very nominal cost in Germany, Britain and Canada but remain around $25 for a two-pack in the US, despite the Biden administration’s efforts to drive costs down through a deal with retailers.