Americans are getting used to seeing themselves exposed and relearning how to hug and smile. Grandparents meet again with distant families. Vaccinated older teenagers happily jump to overnight stays. Sports arenas fill up for NBA and NHL playoffs.
A renaissance that began a few weeks ago with preliminary steps is now moving at a noticeable speed. Open theme parks. Welcome back to rush hour. The office waves to those who are ready. The date night does not have to take place in a heated restaurant tent. Back to school in September could actually mean something for Generation Zoom. And the show will go on on Broadway soon.
That was the story last summer when premature reopenings over the Sun Belt, spurred on by then-President Donald Trump, sparked a deadly wave of infections.
The waning crisis, however, is evident in medical data that has long drawn a devastating daily death story and an out-of-control harmful virus.
The rapid declines in new Covid cases in other countries, which were ahead of the US in introducing vaccines, can now be seen here. And serious illnesses also decrease thanks to highly effective recordings.
“It means a lot. It means summer looks bright,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine and assistant director of the Department of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.
Gandhi added that the country could soon hit the threshold of 10,000 new cases a day, which Fauci said would signal the pandemic is almost over.
“That’s where we’re going. So that’s very good news,” she told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday.
The difference this summer is that tens of millions of Americans – 131 million to be precise – are fully vaccinated. Almost 300 million doses have been given, severely draining the pool of people likely to get sick. Half of the states have fully vaccinated more than half of their adult residents. There are concerns that young people are not yet vaccinated against driving infections. But 12 to 15 year olds are now eligible to take the Pfizer recordings.
“I think the good news is that the 1.2 million children vaccinated this week are well on their way to a carefree summer,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House’s coordinator for Covid’s response, on Monday in the “Newsroom” of CNN.
Remember a time of loss
The improving public health situation is starting to fuel an economy that roared during the pandemic but was shut down almost overnight. The Back-to-Normal Index from CNN Business in collaboration with Moody’s Analytics shows that 90% of the US economy is on the way before the crisis.
In some countries, massive job losses and the ruin of businesses prolong the hangover the troubles that exacerbate already acute economic inequality. In other cases, a labor shortage reflects the speed of reopening and could mean that the unemployment rate will soon fall.
However, the return to life euphoria sparked by the sudden relaxation of mask mandates by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month is also accompanied by recognition of lost data and uncertainty about developments ahead. Many of the millions of Americans who wore masks hesitate to take them off, not entirely trusting that their compatriots who refused to cover up the vaccine received the vaccine – although science says those who made the shot are at extremely low risk.
For a country locked down, torn by pandemic policies, and whose striking optimism has been cast down every day, there will be a psychological and emotional adjustment, a period of time to assess what has changed.
President Joe Biden’s frequent eulogies to those who have left empty seats at the dining tables are tragically real for so many families. Almost 600,000 Americans who succumbed to Covid-19 did not see the current reopening. Perhaps a united, less polarized nation would have saved many of them. The ghost of “Long Covid” – persistent, severe symptoms – extends indefinitely for many sick people. And the public health challenges remain.
Swaths of the country, often in states Trump won last year, are wary of vaccines – a skepticism that threatens to dispel hopes of driving the virus out for good. The actual test of whether America is back to normal will not take place in summer, but when the winter cold sets in with the expected Covid-19 hotspots. And the plight in much of the world, where the virus rages unabated, leaves American leaders – and those in Britain, Israel and increasingly Europe, where vaccines are on the rise – with two questions: will they honor them? their duty to humankind and helping nations that are still suffering terribly by quickly boosting vaccine supplies? And will the new vaccinations reach critical mass before Covid-19 has a chance to mutate into forms that could overwhelm existing shots and make the return of so many lost American freedoms just a temporary respite?
A national process
The Covid-19 crisis has been a relentless test for any citizen – one that encompassed the entire American population – be it in restricted states or in the conservative heartland that defied mask mandates and closings and helped a disease that USed politics and the US exploited cultural differences to flourish.
Perhaps not since World War II, when the country was consumed in fighting on the European and Pacific fronts and made national efforts at home, so many Americans have faced the same crisis at the same time.
The most recent equivalent could be the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which were national trauma but deeply affected those in Washington and New York. In the wars after September 11th, however, the fighting and death were left to a small minority of young Americans, who suffered disproportionately.
In time – when the crisis is really over – there will be moments to consider the ongoing societal impact of the past 15 months. The political divide in central America has only widened – not least because of a former president who downplayed the disaster for his own political gain.
Questions remain. Will a new president – who vowed to bring America back – receive a political reward for keeping his promise? Or could a resurgence of the virus prevent a second administration?
There are long-term consequences at home that are still unknown and will not be recognized until years later. The damage done to the country’s youth may never be fully repaired after a year of online classes.
And in the US, it can take years to determine who is ahead in the war between science and politics as respected public health experts have been targeted by conservative leaders who preferred their own version of reality.
The recent mass shootings and waves of urban crime are a reminder that many of the challenges the country faced prior to the pandemic remain unsolvable.
But despite the caveats, the prospect of a new version of the “Roaring ’20s” – when a generation survived World War I and an influenza pandemic – to drop their hair seems to be within reach.
The lifting of national darkness becomes more and more evident in the parade of daily moments from coffee shops to airports and stadiums to restaurants that are slowly evolving from novel to normal.
When 50-year-old Phil Mickelson became the oldest golfer to win a major on Kiawah Island in a golden hour in South Carolina on Sunday night, the lasting memory was not only his triumph for the ages, but also the insane mob that kept him up for the 18th green cheered. Perhaps this outpouring points to better days rather than the rash of super-spreader infections it could have been a year ago.
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