OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron-variant have dropped dramatically through the past seven days and experts have called for the United States to eliminate ‘divisive’ pandemic restrictions, such as the requirement to wear a mask and obtain a vaccine, as they recently did in Britain.
A Johns Hopkins University report shows America has an average of 682,374 cases per day, a 12 percent drop over the past two weeks.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, an ex-director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a Pfizer board member, says the decline in cases should signal to officials that it is time to start easing restrictions related to the pandemic.
‘I think certainly on the east coast where you see cases declining dramatically we need to be willing to lean in and do that very soon I think as conditions improve we have to be willing to relax some of these measures with the same speed that we put them in place,’ he proclaimed on CNBC.
In his analysis of the current U.S. political situation, he compares it to the situation in the U.K. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to eliminate all pandemic restrictions amid a drop in cases of the disease. Gottlieb believes that the United States should follow soon, pointing out that masks in schools and vaccine mandates are two particularly ‘divisive’ restrictions.
‘We haven’t described clear goalposts for when we’re gonna withdraw a lot of these measures and the two most contentious things right now in the U.S. are the masks among children in schools and the vaccine mandates,’ he said.
According to him, health officials should have a ‘flexible doctrine’ that changes as the pandemic evolves, in order to comply with Covid rules.
The wave’s drop has Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s leading infectious disease experts, optimistic about its future.
‘Things are looking good. We don’t want to get overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now,’ Fauci said on ABC this week.
While cases are on the rise in most of the south and midwest, he notes that they are beginning to decline in the northeastern states that were hit by the new variant hard and fast in December. The west will probably follow the same path as its east coast peers, with a rapid decline expected to begin soon after the crest.
‘If the pattern follows the trend that we’re seeing in other places, such as the northeast, I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country,’ Fauci said.
‘Since it’s a large country and a great deal of variation in the degree of vaccinations that we have in one region compared to another … there may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosters.’
During the past few weeks, the overall infection rate has sharply declined, prompting the call for restrictions to be dropped.
In the latest report, 4,110 out of every one million Americans reported infections on January 10 – the highest number ever recorded. As of Friday, 2,643 people reported infections. As of Sunday, that number has dropped to 615 per one million.
The sharp decline is definitely due to the peculiarities of U.S. case reporting – Sundays always have the lowest cases because many health departments are closed for the day – but it also indicates a shift in the prevalence of the pandemic for the country.
Most often, deaths lag behind cases and are now rising to alarming levels. The Johns Hopkins data also shows that the nation’s daily death average has reached 2,003 – the highest level since late September. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released projections last week for the week of February 13 that reported an increase of 35,700 deaths – 5,100 deaths per day – in the coming weeks.
In addition, Covid hospitalizations are at an all-time high, but the number is misleading. According to official statistics, 157,429 people are finding themselves in the hospital every day who are positive for Covid although the figure includes people who are in the hospital for other treatments and are also testing positive. There are many people in the total with minor symptoms, or who are asymptomatic and are not suffering from serious conditions that require hospitalization.
According to Massachusetts health officials, half of the so-called ‘Covid hospitalizations’ in the state are actually patients receiving treatment for another condition.
Omicron variant cases were first reported in South Africa in the wake of a massive outbreak. Across the country, the number of cases spiked in December, reaching as high as 23,000 per day. As of late January, however, the average daily case count had plummeted to about 3,100 – another indication of how quickly Covid could subside.
In light of the decline in cases along the east coast, Gottlieb says he feels more prepared personally to attend large gatherings once more.
‘We’re probably a week or two away where I’ll feel comfortable going out into congregate settings again like I was maybe two-and-a-half months ago. In February I’ve certainly planned business travel,’ he said.