Freedomroo – Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

There’s been a lot of encouraging news about the pandemic lately, and as cases have plummeted across the United States, and the world, some people are beginning to wonder — is the end of the pandemic finally within sight?

My colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who covers science for The Times, set out to answer this question and spoke to 21 experts about the future of the pandemic in the U.S.

“Just about all of them were optimistic about the mid- to long-term future, certainly about the summer,” Apoorva said. At the very least, most scientists say they now believe that the worst of the pandemic is behind us.

But Apoorva also told me the experts were concerned about the next few weeks and the high likelihood of a “fourth wave” of new cases.

Virus cases across the U.S. already appear to be leveling off from the steep decline that began in January, and the federal government warned governors today against relaxing pandemic control measures. Whether Americans will be able to beat back a possible coming wave depends on a number of unknowns:

Human behavior. “The biggest variable is behavior,” Apoorva said, “and it explains both why cases have fallen so much in most of the world, but also why they might go up again.”

Scientists say that cases have fallen in the U.S. largely because states imposed restrictions around the holidays, and — perhaps more important — people actually followed the rules. But now, as the outlook has improved, governors are lifting restrictions and are under enormous pressure to reopen even more broadly. If that happens, cases driven by the new variants are likely to explode.

Variants. Apoorva told me that the more contagious variants are causing a “pandemic within a pandemic.” “We have the larger pandemic — the thing we’ve been dealing with since last year — and that is winding to a close,” she said. “But in the meantime, these variants have created a new set of problems.”

The U.S. has been slow to track the spread of the variants, and the declining infection rates may be giving people a false sense of security. If the variants spread in the U.S., as they have elsewhere, they’ll most likely drive a surge in cases.

Vaccines. The vaccines have turned out to be more effective than anyone could have hoped, preventing serious illness and death in nearly all recipients so far. But scientists worry about the variants from South Africa and Brazil, which have been able to reinfect people who already had the original version of the virus. Still, if the Biden administration can keep its promise to immunize every American adult by the end of the summer — a tall order since many say they don’t want a dose — the variants should be no match for the vaccines.

Which leads us to the good news.

The experts predicted that the last surge would subside in the United States sometime in the early summer. By then, large outbreaks could be a thing of the past. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths may drop to negligible levels — and enough, hopefully, to be able to safely reopen the country.

“My kids won’t be vaccinated by the summer, so I’m not thinking that we will travel anywhere in a big way,” Apoorva said. “But I am looking forward to seeing friends, at least outdoors, and I’m looking forward to the numbers being low enough that we don’t all have to be so afraid when we go outside our homes.”

For many people, the isolation of the pandemic opened a Pandora’s box of mental health issues, exacerbating the pressures on some of the most vulnerable members of society.

According to surveys of young Americans coming into emergency rooms, rates of suicidal thinking and behavior are up by 25 percent or more from similar periods in 2019.

In Japan, job losses, urban isolation and household burdens have compounded societal pressures, leading to a troubling spike in suicides by women.

I put on my therapist cape and fight the enemy that is attacking my community: mental despair. I listen, counsel, advise, cajole, tell bad jokes, tell better jokes, Zoom, meet in outdoor spots, bring up mindfulness, recommend books, suggest Netflix comedies, refer to Jung, encourage journaling, reflect on current events, drop hints of hope, explain neural pathways, pull Tarot cards if desperate, lavish praise, nurture dreams, offer perspective, share grief, call other therapists for support, sigh, and pray for everyone. I’m giving it all I’ve got.

— Joanell Serra, Sonoma, Calif.

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