The US is reopening far and wide just in time for the summer, a sign that millions are ready to get their life back.
But the loosening of restrictions come as new Covid-19 vaccination rates decrease from spring highs, leaving some areas vulnerable to potential pandemic hotspots and risking the progress the nation has made.
As of Friday, the country was averaging just over one million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered per day over the past week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And while CDC data shows that’s a nearly 14% increase from the previous week, vaccination rates remain lower than the peak average in early April of 3.3 million per day.
Nearly 64% of adults in the US have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and about 54% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. Yet the Biden administration’s goal of having 70% of adults with at least one dose of vaccine by July 4 is expected to fall short.
Less than half of adults living in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wyoming have received one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the CDC this week.
Vaccine inaccessibility due to socio-economic barriers is a concern among state and health officials, and recent data suggests that the uneven number of inoculations across the country are not strictly limited to geography.
Black and Hispanic people remain underrepresented among those who are vaccinated in the US, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation published Wednesday.
Among the 41 states that report racial and ethnic data of people who have been vaccinated, the share of White people who have received at least one dose is about 1.4 times higher than the share of Black people inoculated and about 1.3 times higher than the share of Hispanic people, according to the study.
“As observed in prior weeks, Black and Hispanic people have received smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and compared to their shares of the total population in most states,” according to the analysis.
Over the past two weeks, however, progress has been noted, with Hispanic and Black percentages of vaccination increasing, according to KFF.
Variants are a risk for the unvaccinated
Experts have been warning that a coronavirus variant first identified in India and now rising to prominence in the United Kingdom — the Delta variant, or B.1.617.2 — could pose considerable danger to those who are unvaccinated.
Another variant — the Alpha variant, or B.1.1.7 — has become the most common strain of the coronavirus in the country over the first four months of this year, according to a CDC study.
“This rapid expansion is consistent with a model-based prediction that B.1.1.7 could become a predominant variant,” CDC researchers wrote.
The good news is that two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine appear to provide good protection against some of the worrisome new variants circulating, including the Delta variant, other researchers reported this week in the journal Nature.
“New variants will continue to emerge as the pandemic persists,” researchers said, adding that there has been no evidence that variants have largely escaped such vaccine protections.
“Therefore, increasing the proportion of the population immunized with current safe and effective authorized vaccines remains a key strategy to minimize the emergence of new variants and end the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Summertime reopenings continue
Chicago became the largest US city to fully reopen Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced.
The move allows businesses to operate without Covid-19 guidelines.
“Meaning capacity limits gone, mask mandates not mandatory, and social distancing requirements lifted,” Lightfoot said.
Masks remain required in some places in adherence to federal guidelines, including on public transportation and in health care facilities, schools, shelters and correctional facilities, the mayor said. She also encouraged those who are not vaccinated to wear masks.
Lightfoot told CNN on Friday that the “economy is poised to come roaring back” with the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in the city.
In California, workers who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear face coverings or practice social distancing in the workplace — even if others in the same room are not vaccinated, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board recommended Friday in a new set of revised workplace safety measures.
The board had initially considered allowing workers to go maskless in the workplace if everyone else in the room was fully vaccinated. But following pushback from businesses and workers alike, those rules were withdrawn five days later.
The board plans to vote on the new set of recommended revisions on June 17. Until these new standards are formally adopted, masks are still required.
California, set to fully reopen on June 15, dropped its stay-at-home order and will begin to roll back most pandemic related-executive orders, officials said.