NEW YORK (AP) – Teams of experts predict that the toll of COVID-19 in the United States will decline sharply by the end of July, according to a study released by the government on Wednesday.
But they also warn that a “substantial increase” in hospitalizations and deaths is possible if unvaccinated people do not adhere to basic precautions such as wearing a mask and keeping others away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document included projections from six research groups. Their mission was to predict the course of the American epidemic by September according to different scenarios, depending on the progress of the vaccination campaign and the behavior of people.
Mainly, this is good news. Even in scenarios involving disappointing vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are expected to drop significantly by the end of July and continue to decline thereafter.
The CDC now reports an average of about 350,000 new cases per week, 35,000 hospitalizations and more than 4,000 deaths.
According to the most optimistic scenarios considered, by the end of July, new weekly national cases could drop below 50,000, hospitalizations less than 1,000 and deaths between 200 and 300.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but we could be very close,” said CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky, while noting that the coronavirus variants are a “wild card” that could delay progress.
The projections are probably in line with what many Americans were already expecting this summer.
With deaths, hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases plummeting since January, many states and cities are already working to ease or lift restrictions on restaurants, bars, theaters and other businesses and talk about returning to something close to normal this summer.
New York’s subways will start operating all night again this month, Las Vegas is once again buzzing with increased casino capacity limits, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis this week suspended all restrictions put in place by local governments, although businesses may continue to require people to wear clothing. masks and keep their distance, and many still do.
Many people in Florida have resumed parties, graduations and recitals. Walt Disney World allows customers to remove their masks for photos.
“It feels like life is getting back to normal,” said Vicki Restivo, 67, of Miami, who, after being vaccinated, resumed going out with her friends to restaurants and traveled to Egypt. – and felt “very comfortable” about it.
President Joe Biden set a target on Tuesday to deliver shots to 70% of American adults by July 4. Such a goal, if achieved, would fit in with best-case scenarios, said one of the study’s co-authors, CDC biologist Michael Johansson.
In more pessimistic scenarios, with below-average vaccinations and a decrease in the use of masks and social distancing, weekly cases would likely continue to decline but could number in the hundreds of thousands, with tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.
“I am often asked when will the pandemic end and when can we get back to normal. The reality is this: it all depends on the actions we take now, ”Walensky said.
All projections tend to fall, illustrating the powerful effect of the vaccination campaign. But there is a devastating difference between more gently sloping declines in some scenarios and more dramatic declines in others, said Jennifer Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Each of these differences is people’s lives,” said Kates, who is part of a Kaiser research team that focused on COVID-19 and was not involved in the CDC study.
The death toll in the United States stands at more than 578,000 people. The CDC document does not give any overall estimate of the scale of the death toll. But a closely watched University of Washington projection shows the curve has flattened significantly in the coming months, with the toll reaching around 599,000 as of Aug. 1.
More than 56% of the country’s adults, or nearly 146 million people, have received a dose of the vaccine, and nearly 41% are fully immunized, according to the CDC.
Johansson said the document is not so much about a prediction of what exactly will happen, but a way to understand how things might turn out if vaccination campaigns or other efforts fail.
By September, assuming high vaccination rates and continued use of prevention measures, models indicate new cases could drop to a few hundred per week and just dozens of hospitalizations and deaths.
The document also sketched out a worst-case scenario, in which cases could increase to 900,000 per week, hospitalizations to 50,000 and deaths to 10,000. That would most likely occur this month, according to the projections.
However, the document’s projections are based on data available through the end of March, when the national picture was a bit bleak.
The CDC document “already looks a bit outdated, as we’ve seen cases continue to drop, and hospitalizations are going down and deaths are going down,” Kates said.
Nonetheless, Johansson warned: “We are still in a precarious position.”
There are state-to-state variations in how immunization campaigns go and how quickly restrictions are dropped, which will likely mean some states will experience a higher toll of COVID-19 than they do. ‘others in the coming months, Kates said.
“If you take your foot off the accelerator,” she says, “you can really have bad results.”
The document does not look after September, and scientists cannot say for sure what the epidemic will look like next fall and winter, as it is unclear how long-lasting vaccine protection will be or whether variants of the vaccine will be sustainable. viruses will prove to be a bigger problem.
Like the flu, COVID-19 could increase as people move indoors in cold weather.
“I hope that with enough people vaccinated, we can come up with something that maybe looks like a bad flu season,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University expert on disease dynamics. who did not participate in the research. But “it’s not going to go away. It will not be eradicated. “
Associated Press editor Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
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