Widespread vaccinations in the US won’t come until the summer. Here’s what’s been driving down Covid-19 cases so far

Widespread vaccinations in the US won’t come until the summer. Here’s what’s been driving down Covid-19 cases so far

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(CNN)More than 38 million Americans have so far received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine — but it’s not the vaccinations that have driven Covid-19 numbers down across the US, one expert told CNN.

“It’s what we’re doing right: staying apart, wearing masks, not traveling, not mixing with others indoors,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday.
Covid-19 infection and hospitalization numbers are now plummeting nationwide after rounds of devastating surges that followed the holidays. The country’s seven-day average of new cases is now below 100,000 — down from a peak of about 250,000 in early January, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations are also way down from their peak of more than 132,400 on January 6, data from the COVID Tracking Project show.
But that doesn’t mean the US is in the clear.

Tens of thousands of new cases continue to be reported daily. More than 67,000 people remain hospitalized with the virus across the country, according to the COVID Tracking Project. This month alone, the US has reported more than 42,500 virus-related deaths. And now, concerning variants are circulating, threatening another surge.
“We’ve had three surges,” Frieden added. “Whether or not we have a fourth surge is up to us, and the stakes couldn’t be higher — not only in the number of people who could die in the fourth surge, but also in the risk that even more dangerous variants will emerge if there’s more uncontrolled spread.”
That’s why it’s especially important state leaders don’t ease restrictions and lift mask mandates now, experts have warned.
“It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told NBC on Sunday. “If we want to get our children back to school, and I believe we all do, it all depends on how much community spread is out there.”
“We need to all take responsibility to decrease that community spread, including mask wearing, so that we can get our kids and our society back,” the director added.
Homegrown Covid-19 variants spotted in US
Among the most concerning Covid-19 strains that has been detected in the US is the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first spotted in the UK. More than 1,100 cases of the variant have been reported across 39 states — with roughly a third of the cases reported in Florida, according to data from the CDC.
The US has also reported at least 17 cases of a strain initially seen in South Africa and at least two cases of another strain, this one first linked to Brazil.

Meanwhile on Sunday, researchers announced they have identified a batch of similar troubling mutations in Covid-19 samples in the US that also appear to make the virus more transmissible.
Those mutations all affect the same stretch of the spike protein — the knob-like extension on the outside of the virus that it uses to dock onto the cells it infects, researchers wrote in a pre-print report that has not yet been peer reviewed.
But these mutations appear to be “relatively rare” so far, one of the researchers said.
States still struggle with vaccine supply
Public health experts say the US is now in a race against time to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before the variants continue to spread and mutate further.
But while states ramp up their vaccinations, challenges remain — including supply shortages.

In San Francisco, officials announced that a high-volume vaccination site will pause for a week and will reopen “once supply is sufficient to resume operations.” A second high-volume site expects to resume vaccinations Friday — but only for second doses. A third high-volume vaccine site is set to launch this week, officials said, but “with available appointments far below full capacity.”
“The vaccine supply coming to San Francisco’s healthcare providers and the Department of Public Health (DPH) is limited, inconsistent, and unpredictable, making vaccine roll out difficult and denying San Franciscans this potentially life-saving intervention,” officials said in a news release Sunday.
“The City has the capacity to administer more than 10,000 vaccines per day but lack the vaccine supply,” they added.
Supply shortage has also hindered operations across other parts of the state, even as officials recently announced they’ll add millions more people to the state’s vaccine priority list. Several of Los Angeles’ Covid-19 vaccination sites were forced to temporarily close because of a lack of vaccine doses.

In Washington state, officials said appointments for the first dose will be “extremely limited” this week as the state will focus on administering second doses.
“We are monitoring the distribution of doses closely and making adjustments as needed,” Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said in a statement. “While the limited availability of first doses will be challenging this coming week, focusing on second doses will help pave the way for an improved and more sustainable allocation of vaccines in future weeks.”
The two states are far from alone in their struggles. Officials have said supply will likely remain a challenge for a while, and experts say vaccines will likely not be widely available to the American public until late spring or summer.

Walensky, the CDC director, told Fox News on Sunday she anticipates that “by the end of the summer, we will have enough vaccine in order to vaccinate the entire US population that is eligible.”
Expert: Teacher vaccinations ‘essential’ for school reopening
Meanwhile, among the central questions about vaccinations right now is when educators across the country will be able to get their shots.
Emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN on Sunday that teacher vaccinations are crucial when it comes to reopening school — differing in opinion from school reopening guidance released last week by the

The agency’s guidelines did not list vaccination as a “key” strategy for opening schools, focusing instead on measures like masks and physical distancing among others. Vaccinations for staff and teachers are “an additional layer of protection,” Walensky previously said.
On Sunday, Walensky told CNN that while vaccination for teachers is not a prerequisite for reopening schools, current CDC guidance does specify that those who are at higher risk should have virtual options.
“I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccinations, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen,” she said.
But Wen called teacher vaccinations “essential.”
“If we want students to be in school for in-person learning, the least that we can do is to protect the health and well-being of our teachers — especially as in so many parts of the country, teachers are already being made to go back to school in poorly-ventilated, cramped areas, with many students who may not always be masking and practicing physical distancing,” Wen said.