Amid recent drops in the United States' reported rate of new coronavirus cases, some states are rolling back restrictions aimed at curbing the virus's spread. But public health officials say it's too soon to loosen such measures, warning that the country may be on the verge of a fourth surge in the epidemic.
State and local officials begin lifting measures aimed at curbing coronavirus's spread
Many state and local officials have begun lifting restrictions intended to slow the coronavirus's transmission, citing America's accelerating Covid-19 vaccine rollout and recent declines in newly reported coronavirus cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, the Associated Press reports.
In Iowa, for example, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) recently rolled back the state's mask requirements and limits on bar and restaurant capacity.
Similarly, in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has raised capacity limits to 50% across businesses, including theaters, which can now open with a maximum of 500 individuals, according to the AP. Baker also lifted all capacity limits on restaurants, the AP reports.
In addition, many school districts throughout the United States have resumed in-person classes. In Kentucky, for instance, most school districts have started to offer in-person classes. And on Monday, Las Vegas became the latest of the largest school districts in the country to allow children to return to in-person classes.
Public health officials say states shouldn't relax many public health measures just yet
But public health officials and experts say America is currently at a crossroads in its coronavirus epidemic, with the potential to see continued progress or for that progress to reverse if Americans stop adhering to public health measures intended to curb the virus's spread.
During a White House news briefing on Monday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she's "really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19."
Walensky said the latest data shows that recent declines in America's rates of newly reported coronavirus cases and deaths appear to have leveled off and remain high—with the United States now reporting an average of 70,000 new cases and 2,000 new deaths each day. Further, Walensky said new variants of the virus that are more transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines could make matters worse.
"At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and to our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close," Walensky said.
Separately, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor for the White House's Covid-19 response, during an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday said coronavirus cases must decrease before states should lift restrictions, "particularly in light of the fact that we have some worrisome variants that are in places like California and New York and others that we're keeping our eye on."
According to USA Today, U.S. officials on Sunday reported a record-high of 306 new cases of coronavirus variants. However, most U.S. coronavirus cases aren't screened to determine whether a patient has a new variant, so experts say it's unclear just how widespread these variants truly are.
Overall, CDC data shows that the United States as of Sunday reported 2,463 total cases of certain novel coronavirus variants across 46 U.S. states and territories, including:
- 2,400 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, which research suggests is more transmissible and may be less susceptible to current Covid-19 vaccines than earlier variants, as well as potentially more deadly;
- 53 cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, which research suggests is more transmissible and may be less susceptible to current Covid-19 vaccines; and
- 10 cases of the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, which research suggests is more transmissible and may be less susceptible to current Covid-19 vaccines.
Where America's coronavirus epidemic stands
Overall, data compiled by the New York Times shows that U.S. officials on Monday reported about 56,672 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported about 28.6 million cases since the United States' epidemic began.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 67,470—down by 21% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.
However, the Times' data showed that, as of Tuesday morning, the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Washington, D.C., and 11 states that have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.
In addition, the rate of newly reported coronavirus cases was "going up" as of Tuesday morning in Michigan and Washington, which have had comparatively lower case rates, the Times reports.
According to the data, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" or declining from previously higher rates in the remaining U.S. states and territories.
Meanwhile, data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project shows there were 46,738 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Monday, including 9,595 who were receiving care in an ICU and 3,171 who were on a ventilator.
Further, data from the Times shows that U.S. officials reported about 1,425 new deaths linked to the coronavirus on Monday. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported about 514,404 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.
(Hollingsworth/Webber, Associated Press, 3/1; Bosman/Tompkins, New York Times, 3/1; Fernandez, Axios, 3/1; Lovelace, CNBC, 3/1; Haslett, ABC News, 3/1; Guzman, "Changing America," The Hill, 3/1; Aspegren et al., USA Today, 3/1; Lin, Los Angeles Times, 3/1; New York Times, 3/2; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 3/2).