As states lift mask rules and ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of falling case numbers, public health officials say authorities are overlooking potentially more dangerous COVID-19 variants that are quietly spreading through the U.S.
Scientists widely agree that the U.S. simply doesn’t have enough of a handle on the variants to roll back public health measures and is at risk of fumbling yet another phase of the pandemic after letting the virus rage through the country over the last year and kill nearly 500,000 people.
“Now is not the time to fully open up," said Karthik Gangavarapu, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute whose team works closely with San Diego health officials to watch for mutant versions of the coronavirus. “We need to still be vigilant.”
Over the past two weeks, the daily averages for both coronavirus cases and deaths have dropped by about half in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And as of Wednesday, over 40 million people — about 12% of the population — had received at least one dose of a vaccine.
But experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky say the downward trend could reverse itself if new variants take hold.
In other developments:
- Making decisions about risks — large or small — in the pandemic era is fraught enough. But the storms and outages ravaging Texas and other states have added a whole new layer to the process.
- The reticence of large numbers of parents who are skeptical of schools' ability to keep their children safe complicates reopening plans for districts that also are weighing other factors including resistance of teachers unions and the logistics involved in keeping up social distancing.
- Joe Biden will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage at Friday’s Group of Seven meeting of world leaders to announce that the U.S. will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine to poor nations, White House officials said.
- The Vatican is taking Pope Francis’ pro-vaccine stance very seriously. A Feb. 8 decree signed by the governor of the Vatican city-state says that employees who refuse to get a shot against the coronavirus without a valid medical excuse could be subject to sanctions up to and including being fired.
- The British variant of the coronavirus is taking hold in Italy right as the country is marking the first anniversary of the start of its outbreak.
- XPrize founder Peter Diamandis thought he could hold a conference in an “immunity bubble” in the middle of California’s COVID-19 surge last month but instead created a superspreader event that infected attendees, staff and himself.
- For the second straight year the Ivy League will not hold a spring sports conference season, the school presidents announced Thursday.