It’s all true. Memorial Day weekend may very well look like it did before the coronavirus pandemic upended life more than a year ago.
Vaccines have made the gradual return to normalcy possible.
To date, more than 166 million people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And as of Friday, California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Puerto Rico remain the only states or jurisdictions where mask mandates for everyone are currently in place.
The pandemic has touched everyone differently.
In terms of infections, at least one in 10 people in the US has been confirmed to have contracted the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
But reported infections are likely an undercount. The CDC estimates that closer to 1 in 3 Americans has had Covid-19 — with about 115 million total infections estimated through mid-April.
However, the CDC on Thursday predicted that cases, hospitalizations and deaths will fall over the next four weeks. The CDC ensemble forecasts concluded that there will be a total of 596,000 to 606,000 Covid-19 deaths by June 19.
As of Friday, Covid-19 has killed at least 593,364 people and infected more than 33 million in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Most seniors are vaccinated
The improved outlook can be attributed to the continuing efforts by states to get people vaccinated. Already, 10 states have reached the Biden administration’s goal of vaccinating 70% of adults by July 4 with at least one dose.
Also, nearly three-quarters of seniors are now fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
On Friday, President Joe Biden touted the progress, expressing a sense of hope ahead of the unofficial start of summer.
“We’re not just saving lives, we’re getting our lives back,” Biden said.
Biden said despite the growing light at the end of the tunnel, he urged those not yet vaccinated against Covid-19 to do so.
“As more Americans get vaccinated the days grow brighter and brighter but let me be clear, we’re not done yet. We have to reach those who are not vaccinated and make it as easy as possible for them to get protected,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order prohibiting schools and school districts from requiring students and workers to wear a face covering while on campus.
The new order, effective May 31, also eliminates rules for restaurants, bars, conventions, childcare facilities, live performance venues and other organizations. Previous executive orders eliminated regulations for camps and sporting events, according to a press release.
“As hospitalizations, cases, deaths, and percent positive tests all continue to decline — and with vaccinations on the rise — Georgians deserve to fully return to normal,” Kemp said in the release. “With safe and effective vaccines widely available and the public well-aware of all COVID-19 mitigation measures, mandates from state and local governments are no longer needed.”
Vaccine disparities continue in America’s vulnerable communities
The slow return to normalcy is made possible by vaccines, and those who choose to take them. But there is a segment of the US population that is not getting vaccinated as quickly, and it’s not all by choice.
Socially vulnerable counties in America are experiencing lower vaccination rates, according to CDC data published Friday.
A CNN analysis of the federal data found counties that are lagging behind the overall Covid-19 vaccination rate tend to be poorer and less educated, with less access to computers and the internet.
This digital and economic divide contributes to disparities in health care access generally, experts say, and access to Covid-19 vaccines is no exception.
“With too many things in health, we focus on the individual behavior without looking at the systems that either make it easy or not for someone to practice that healthy behavior,” Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told CNN.
The CDC used a social vulnerability index, which assesses counties based on 15 factors in four categories: socioeconomic status, household composition, race and ethnicity, and housing type and transportation. More vulnerable counties have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but those same communities have also lagged in vaccination rates.
“Health behaviors (like getting a Covid-19 vaccine) are, in part, a personal choice,” Besser said. “But one of the things that’s often said is that the choices we make depend on the choices that we have. For someone who doesn’t have internet access, there’s not much choice there in being able to go online and schedule your appointment.”
Another health crisis?
As the nation inches toward the possible end of the pandemic, another health crisis looms.
It’s time to address the loneliness epidemic, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Friday.
“At the heart of all of this is a bigger, deeper question that we have an opportunity to address right now — which affects our mental health … which is a question of what kind of society do we want to design after this pandemic ends?” Murthy said during a federal health meeting.
Loneliness can lead to anxiety and depression as well as sleep disturbances, dementia and shorter lifespans, Murthy said.
Not to mention the toll that racism and xenophobia can have on one’s mental health, chipping away at people’s self-worth and making “them feel like outsiders,” he said.
“It contributes to a sense of isolation,” Murthy noted.