“It’s something that is historic. It’s nothing like we’ve ever been though in the last 102 years since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“It really is a terrible situation that we’ve been through and that we’re still going through. And that’s the reason why we keep insisting to continue with the public health measures — because we don’t want this to get much worse than it already is.”
“More than in three wars,” one of the newspaper’s headlines read.
More than 497,600 people have so far died from COVID-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And another 91,000 Americans are projected to die from the disease by June 1, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Decreases in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations in recent weeks have prompted some state and local leaders to loosen restrictions.
But as new coronavirus variants spread, health experts say it’s critical to double down on safety measures to prevent yet another catastrophic surge.
“The most uncertain driver of the trajectory of the epidemic over the next four months is how individuals will respond to steady declines in daily cases and deaths,” the IHME team wrote.
“More rapid increases in mobility or reductions in mask use can easily lead to increasing cases and deaths in many states in April.”
‘Rapid growth’ of the B.1.1.7 strain expected
Several new concerning variants of coronavirus have been found in the US, including the highly contagious B.1.1.7 strain first detected in the UK.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has projected a “rapid growth” of the B.1.1.7 strain across the US, saying it will likely become the predominant variant in the country by March.
The IHME team said while the B.1.1.7 strain likely accounts for less than 20 per cent of coronavirus infections now, that number could jump to 80 per cent by late April.
That’s why experts say the US should also ramp up its testing: not just to track infections and antibodies, but also variants.
“We have been behind on testing from day one,” Kathleen Sebelius, former Health and Human Services Secretary, said Saturday.
She said the US needs to “focus on both testing that we need to identify who has the disease, and then the serology tests that will tell us more about antibodies and what kind of variant is circulating.”
5.5 per cent of US is fully vaccinated
So far, more than 42.8 million Americans have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to CDC data.
More than 17.8 million people have been fully vaccinated. That’s about 5.5 per cent of the US population.
Herd immunity is reached when the majority of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease — either through infection and recovery or through vaccination.
Fauci estimates between 70 per cent to 85 per cent of the US population needs to be immune for herd immunity to take effect against the virus.
The IHME team wrote they do not expect the country will reach herd immunity before next winter.
“The model suggests that we should have a quiet summer,” IHME Director Dr Chris Murray told CNN. “But we know COVID’s really seasonal, so when the next winter rolls around, we need to have a much higher level of protection to stop COVID in its tracks than we’re likely to achieve.”
To speed up getting at least the first doses into arms, the US should consider delaying the second dose of vaccines, another expert said.