by john sewer
COVID-19 deaths in the US are falling again, hospitalizations are falling, and new cases per day fall below 100,000 for the first time in two months – all signs that the heat is on. is decreasing.
Not wanting to lose momentum, government leaders and employers want to strengthen vaccine requirements.
Los Angeles on Wednesday implemented one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates, a sweeping measure that would require shots for everyone entering bars, restaurants, nail salons, gyms or Lakers games. New York City and San Francisco have similar rules.
Minnesota’s governor this week called for vaccine and testing requirements for teachers and long-term care workers. In New York, a statewide vaccination mandate for all hospital and nursing home workers will be expanded Thursday to home care and hospice workers.
Across the country, daily deaths have fallen by about 15% since mid-September and now average around 1,750. New cases have averaged more than 103,000 per day, a 40% drop over the past three weeks.
The number of Americans now in hospital with COVID-19 has declined by nearly one-quarter since its most recent peak of nearly 94,000 a month ago.
“What we’re seeing is what we’ve seen in the last three surges,” said Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University School of Medicine. “We need to remember that when we see these numbers going down, it’s not a sign of giving up. It’s a sign of working harder.”
If people give up the masks and social distancing and stop getting vaccinated, “we could be back here in winter with a boom of five,” she said.
The reduction has been particularly sharp in several Deep South states, where cases across the country have dropped more than twice as fast. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas all halved their case counts in the past two weeks.
What is behind the decline is not entirely clear, although health experts say the numbers are decreasing as more and more people are vaccinated and new requirements for the shot are being put in place by government and private employers. .
The reduction in the number of cases may also be due to the elimination of susceptible people to the virus in some places.
Many large companies and institutions with vaccine requirements are seeing high compliance rates. In Denver, 92% of its municipal employees have gotten the shot, well above the city’s overall rate.
Ochsner Health, Louisiana’s largest health system, said last week that 82 percent of its employees were fully vaccinated. But this week, a group of employees sued to block the mandate, which includes paying an additional $200 per month to uninsured spouses in health insurance.
North Carolina’s three largest health systems said Wednesday that more than 99% of the nearly 88,000 workers they employ collectively have received a shot or an approved medical or religious exemption. Fewer than 300 employees of Duke Health, UNC Health and Novant Health have quit or were fired for refusing to comply.
Health care giant Kaiser Permanente has put more than 2,200 employees nationwide – about 1% of its workforce – on unpaid leave because they have opted not to get vaccinated. They have until December 1 to get their shots or lose their jobs.
Kaiser said that since its vaccination requirement was announced, the vaccination rate among employees has increased from 78 percent to 92 percent.
“Vaccine requirements work. New data every day reinforces that fact,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Ziants said Wednesday.
Easing cases, deaths and hospitalizations are accompanied by other encouraging developments, including the possibility that vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11 will be available in a matter of weeks and those sick with COVID-19. The first pill for treatment – may reach the market by the end of 19 years.
World Health Organization said that worldwide, new reported cases fell last week, continuing the decline globally, which began in August. The UN agency said the biggest drop in deaths was in Africa.
Elsewhere around the world, Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll exceeded 900 for the first time this week amid low vaccination rates and the government’s reluctance to impose strict infection-control restrictions.
And authorities in Sweden, Denmark and Norway suspended or discouraged the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in youth because of an increased risk of heart inflammation, a very rare side effect associated with the shot.
Despite the encouraging direction in the US, health experts say it is not time for people to give up their defenses as there are still many who are unvaccinated.
“It’s still mainly a problem for people who are unvaccinated,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins University. “Some of them are taking precautions, but many of them feel they don’t have to worry.”
There are also concerns that a new wave could come in the winter months when more people will be indoors.
While hospitalizations across the country are at a two-month low, intensive care units and staff in growing areas from Alaska to New England remain thin.
Despite some of the highest vaccination rates in the country, parts of New England, including Maine, are seeing record caseloads of largely unvaccinated cases.
Sewer reported from Toledo, Ohio. Associated Press writer Janet McConaughey in New Orleans; Christopher Weber in Los Angeles; Brian Anderson in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Brady McCombs in Denver contributed to this report.