On Memorial Day Weekend, 2nd U.S. Pandemic Summer Seems Bright

Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, one epidemiologist said, “We’re kind of at the beginning of the end” of the fight against the coronavirus.,

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The U.S. heads into another pandemic summer, but this time with optimism.

  • May 28, 2021, 5:03 a.m. ET

Ahead of Memorial Day a year ago, many officials in the United States had canceled parades and banned crowded gatherings. The country was on the cusp of recording 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

This year, parades and barbecues are set to take place across the country and vaccinated people are being urged to get outside and enjoy the holiday. As the national economy roars back, concerns over soaring gas prices, sold-out hotels and lifeguard shortages may be eclipsing virus fears.

“A year ago, we were at the end of the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S., and now we’re kind of at the beginning of the end,” said Dr. Dan Diekema, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa.

Hundreds of people are still dying each day, pushing the death count in the United States past 592,000 — an enormous toll that few envisioned a year ago. But the vaccine rollouts over the past six months have proved a game-changer in the fight against Covid-19, even as challenges remain in reaching those without shots and the nation may never reach herd immunity.

About 62 percent of people 18 and older have received at least one shot; President Biden has set a goal of reaching 70 percent of adults by July 4. New cases have plunged 40 percent or more in many states around the country. The daily death rate is at its lowest level since last summer.

“If you are vaccinated, you are protected, and you can enjoy your Memorial Day,” the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, said at a White House news conference this week. “If you are not vaccinated, our guidance has not changed for you. You remain at risk of infection. You still need to mask and take other precautions.”

After the C.D.C. shifted its guidance this month by saying fully vaccinated people could take off their masks in most situations, one state after another moved to ease restrictions or eliminate them altogether.

California, the most populous U.S. state, announced plans to lift capacity limits and social-distancing restrictions while still requiring masks in indoor settings for now. At the same time, other states are barreling ahead with reopening plans.

Missouri’s governor, a Republican, reopened all remaining businesses this month and directed all state workers to return to offices for in-person work. Texas went even further, banning public schools and local governments from requiring masks.

Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, also a Republican, similarly prohibited mask mandates in state office buildings.

“If somebody wants to wear a mask, that is their personal choice,” he said.

As political leaders embrace policies aimed at returning to normalcy, the vaccines are accentuating a chasm between the United States — where the shots are widely available and where doses are being offered to children — and other nations, such as Brazil and India, where the virus is still raging and vaccines are in short supply.

There are also reminders around the United States that the pandemic, and the partisan positioning around the crisis, remain far from over. The pace of vaccinations has declined sharply since mid-April, with providers administering about 1.7 million doses per day on average, about a 50 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13. As the Biden administration has shifted its vaccine strategy to more local and personalized efforts, states are trying different tactics, including offering $1 million vaccine lottery prizes and other incentives.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in remembrance of the frontline workers who died during the pandemic, only to have a top Republican leader in the State Senate demand an apology from the governor for such a move during a holiday honoring soldiers.

A year ago, President Donald J. Trump mocked Mr. Biden for appearing in public with a face mask. Some states that moved early to reopen, such as Arizona, Florida and Texas, were slammed with a surge in cases weeks later.

Dr. Diekema, the Iowa epidemiologist, said he hoped that the resurgence of the virus last summer would serve as a reminder of the risks to unvaccinated people.

He said he couldn’t imagine a year ago that more than half a million people in the United States would die because of the virus. And the toll continues to grow: Over the holiday weekend, Dr. Diekema said that he planned to be working.

“I’ll be in the hospital seeing patients with infectious diseases like Covid-19,” he said.

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