Each week, good news about vaccines or antibody treatments surfaces, offering hope that an end to the pandemic is at hand.
And yet this holiday season presents a grim reckoning. The United States has reached an appalling milestone: more than one million new coronavirus cases every week. Hospitals in some states are full to bursting. The number of deaths is rising and seems on track to easily surpass the 2,200-a-day average in the spring, when the pandemic was concentrated in the New York metropolitan area.
Our failure to protect ourselves has caught up to us.
The nation now must endure a critical period of transition, one that threatens to last far too long, as we set aside justifiable optimism about next spring and confront the dark winter ahead. Some epidemiologists predict that the death toll by March could be close to twice the 250,000 figure that the nation surpassed only last week.
“The next three months are going to be just horrible,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health and one of two dozen experts interviewed by The New York Times about the near future.
This juncture, perhaps more than any to date, exposes the deep political divisions that have allowed the pandemic to take root and bloom, and that will determine the depth of the winter ahead. Even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to avoid holiday travel and many health officials asked families to cancel big gatherings, more than six million Americans took flights during Thanksgiving week, which is about 40 percent of last year’s air traffic. And President Trump, the one person most capable of altering the trajectory between now and spring, seems unwilling to help his successor do what must be done to save the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has assembled excellent advisers and a sensible plan for tackling the pandemic, public health experts said. But Mitchell Warren, the founder of AVAC, an AIDS advocacy group that focuses on several diseases, said Mr. Biden’s hands appeared tied until Inauguration Day on Jan. 20: “There’s not a ton of power in being president-elect.”
A fatal inaction
By late December, the first doses of vaccine may be available to Americans, federal officials have said. Priorities are still being set, but vaccinations are expected to go first to health care workers, nursing home residents and others at highest risk. How long it will take to reach younger Americans depends on many factors, including how many vaccines are approved and how fast they can be made.
In mid-October, I surprised some New York Times readers by shifting from pessimism to optimism, with the epidemic in the United States most likely ending sooner than I expected. Now that at least two vaccines with efficacy greater than 90 percent have emerged, I am even more hopeful about what 2021 holds.
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