A string of positive news reports suggest there’s a perceptible light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
But one first needs to get a sense of where we are. This week marked the arrival of a grim yet anticipated milestone in the United States: Half a million Americans have now died from COVID-19. It’s the largest number of coronavirus-related deaths of any country in the world, and it poses a tragic reminder that the work is not yet done; Americans must continue to adhere to health protocols by wearing masks and maintaining social distance.
But even amid the heartbreak, there’s positive news. Here’s some of the best:
Overall, virus cases are declining worldwide, with the World Health Organization reporting last week that new infections are down by 16% and deaths are down by 10% over the past week. Here in the U.S., the drop is even more dramatic, with hospitalizations at 132,464 on Jan. 6 and dropping 60% over 40 days to 55,403. Reports indicate a variety of reasons for this happy trajectory: More people are following health guidelines like masking up and socially distancing, warming weather is disrupting viral transmission, and the population is reaching partial immunity — thanks in large part to increased vaccine distribution.
Utah is no exception. The rolling seven-day average of new cases here is well below 1,000 this week, the lowest it’s been since September. (Contrast that with the daily record-breakers in the late fall, when the state’s rolling average hovered around 3,000). Hospitalizations also have declined.
On top of that, 91% of the state’s long-term care facility residents have been vaccinated, and the number of inoculations is again on the rise after a dip last week. The dip was credited to a shipment of 36,000 Moderna doses that was delayed by bad weather; once it arrives this week, the state should see an ever-rising number of shots in arms.
On an international note, the nation of Israel has seen enormous success with its expansive vaccination campaign, with appointments now open to everyone in the country who’s 16 and older. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to get everyone in that age range in the entire country vaccinated by the end of next month — an ambitious goal that experts nevertheless say is feasible. And the huge amount of data coming from the country is good news for the rest of the world: Lower infection rates among Israelis show the vaccine is, by and large, working.
A recent study found that just one shot of Pfizer’s vaccine is up to 85% effective, much higher than previously believed. Plus, the study found that the company’s vials don’t actually need to be stored in specialized, hyper-cold freezers, an initial requirement that hindered the rollout of the drug. Now, the FDA is expected to grant approval for the doses to be stored at normal freezer temperatures, like Moderna’s version. Because of this change, Pfizer announced it expects to deliver more than 13 million doses by mid March, more than doubling its results from early February.
All of this is cause for celebration — but it isn’t yet cause to relax the good behavior that’s contributed to it. The bleak milestone reached this week should be enough evidence of that. But as Americans continue to do their part by holding fast to the uptick of guideline adherence, they have reason to rejoice in good news across the globe — and reason to hope for the end of this era.