Public debate about “herd immunity” often treats it as an on-off switch: when the United States reaches herd immunity, the crisis is over; Until then, the country had had little or no immunity from Covid-19.
But this is not true.
Herd immunity is a lot like dimly lit. The more people develop immunity – whether from infection or from vaccination – the less easily the virus can spread.
Nearly 30 percent of Americans are now infected with the virus, according to Youyang Gu, a data scientist. (This includes many people who have never had a Covid test.) About 18 percent received at least one vaccine injection. There is some overlap between these two groups, which means that About 40 percent of Americans now have some protection from Covid.
Had these people been exposed to the virus a year ago, they could have become infected – and then passed on Covid to others. Today, many are protected.
“This level of population immunity slows transmission,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Washington Post. “After millions of infections and the start of the vaccination campaign, the virus is finally, slowly, running out of new people to infect.”
The epidemic is still far from over. The situation may be exacerbated again by a combination of risky behavior and novel virus variants. Experts are particularly concerned about some states’ rush to lift mask mandates and restrictions on indoor gatherings. At the moment, however, the trends of the virus are improving, thanks in large part to the high level of immunity.
When I last gave you an overview of the situation in the United States – two weeks ago – I highlighted a mix of positive trends (decreasing deaths in nursing homes and encouraging news of vaccines) and negative (more cases and fewer vaccinations). Since then, the good news has largely continued, and the bad news has not. Below is a new update, aided by three charts.
Cases are declining – slowly
When the number of new cases began to rise last month, it was reasonable to ask whether variants of the most contagious viruses were about to cause an increase across the country. they do not have. Looking back, February’s surge looks like a passing picture:
One caveat, as you can see in the chart, is that the recent decline is much lighter than declines during most of January and February. The causes are not entirely clear, and variables may play a role. Either way, this is another sign that the epidemic is not about to end.
The current pace won’t be impressive for long. By the end of the month, the federal government will receive an average of more than three million doses a day, from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. At this point, three million daily shots would be a more reasonable goal.
How quickly the Biden administration and state governments can get there will help determine how many lives are saved and how quickly normalcy can return.
The variants seem a little less intimidating
I recommend that you keep two different ideas about variants in mind at the same time: First, one or more variants can create terrible problems – by being highly contagious, by re-infecting people who have already contracted Covid or by causing more severe symptoms . A British study published yesterday, for example, found that the B.1.1.7 variant increases the risk of death in unvaccinated people.
But – here’s the second thought – the general evidence for variants has been more encouraging so far than many people expected. Vaccines virtually eliminate hospitalizations and deaths in people who contract the variant. Re-infection does not appear to be widespread. And even if the variants were more contagious, they didn’t cause the kind of sudden increases that seemed possible two weeks ago.
In Florida, where B.1.1.7 is widespread, “there is no indication of any increase in cases”, Dr. Eric Topol Books from Scripps Research. In South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant was first detected, however, cases are sinking:
It’s a noticeable drop, given the variant. What explains that? Increased natural immunity appears to be part of the reason, the Financial Times reports. High vaccination rates also help. So did the restrictions imposed by South Africa in late December and January, including “a ban on alcohol sales, the closure of all land borders and most beaches, and an extended curfew,” Bloomberg explained.
The South Africa situation is also a useful summary of the US position: Natural immunity has become an important force in slowing the epidemic, but government policy can still make a big difference, by speeding vaccination and discouraging needlessly risky behaviour.
Over the past week, another 12,000 Americans have died of Covid. The crisis continues.
In other virus news:
The United States plans to purchase an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be used to vaccinate children once the Food and Drug Administration allows it.
The Biden administration has relaxed its guidelines for nursing home visits. The advice recommends external visits, but states that “responsible internal visitation” should be allowed.
Ten years later: In 2011, a tsunami devastated the Japanese village of Kisen. Residents realized that the void is forever.
who saw: The Times’s editorial board argues that if American democracy is to continue, procrastination must go.
live live: In 1994, thieves stole “Scream,” Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, from the National Gallery in Oslo. Three months later, it was brought back, thanks in large part to the efforts of a Scotland Yard investigator named Charles Hill. Hill died at 73.
arts and ideas
People pay a lot of money for gifs
Last month, someone bought a gif of a flying cat for over $500,000. Beeple’s short video has grossed nearly $7 million. Anyone can still view or share clips. So what’s the point of owning it?
It may not make sense to everyone – and it has elements of a financial bubble. It mostly comes down to expensive bragging rights, as well as the possibility of reselling them for more money.
These rights are known as NFTs, which are short for “Non-Foldable Tokens”. “It seems crazy to do this for something purely digital that can be easily copied and shared online,” Erin Griffiths, a Times technology reporter who has written about the trend, tells us. “But the popularity of NFTs shows that people are willing to pay for rare collectors’ items.”
Technology has made it easier for artists, musicians, and sports franchisees to make money from digital goods. The NBA recently introduced a series of NFTs, Top Shot, that turn featured clips into trading cards. In music, the latest album by Kings of Leon is NFT.
Play, watch, all
what are you cooking
what are you reading
Novelist Elizabeth McCracken writes in her review of Jackie Polzen’s “Brother” is “a wonderfully written first novel, full of nuance, humor, and eccentricity.”
It was the ant taken from Spelling Bee yesterday booklet. Here’s today’s puzzle – or you can play online.
Here’s the little crossword puzzle of the day, and a clue: pops (three letters).
If you are in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. see you tomorrow. – David
Note: The Senate has confirmed Janet Reno as the nation’s first attorney general in 28 years. The Times story quoted a certain Delaware senator praising it: “President Clinton—albeit not the first time at bat—has been a huge success.”
You can see today’s print front page here.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” revolves around the similarities between Diana and Megan. In “Sway,” Spike Lee discusses his films.