Mask mandates are being lifted across the US. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are dropping. People are getting vaccinated.
All these promising signs suggest the summer of 2021 could be very different from a year ago.
Half of the adult population is fully vaccinated, according to data published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the past week, the US averaged about 28,000 daily new cases each day, a 19% drop compared to the previous week, according to the CDC.
However, a new study underscored the importance of vaccinating more people as it detailed how some of those who had Covid-19 can suffer from symptoms months later.
Nearly three-quarters of patients with moderate-to-severe Covid-19 had at least one long-term symptom, according to the analysis published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open.
Researchers from Stanford University conducted a review of 45 studies that followed 9,751 patients in the months after a Covid-19 infection. They found 73% of the patients had at least one symptom 60 days after diagnosis, symptom onset or hospital admission. That finding was consistent even in studies that followed patients up to six months.
The researchers also found across the studies that 40% of participants experienced fatigue, 36% had shortness of breath and another 25% reported an inability to concentrate, often referred to as brain fog.
“We had no data on individuals who got Covid-19 and simply went about their day, so we don’t want to cause a lot of alarm with the value of 73% of people experiencing long-term outcomes,” Tahmina Nasserie, a Ph.D. candidate in epidemiology and population health at Stanford University and the lead author of the study, told CNN. “We want people to understand that these are mainly hospitalized so we can only generalize our findings for that particular population.”
Another study, by researchers at the national clinical laboratory LabCorp, found that as many as nine in 10 people infected with Covid-19 develop immunity against the virus that is “sustained with little decay through ten months.” Within three weeks, 90% of people in the study developed antibodies to Covid-19, the study found.
Talk of boosters doesn’t mean wait to get vaccinated, CDC director says
Discussions of the potential need for booster vaccines don’t mean that current vaccines are ineffective, and people should still get vaccinated when they are available, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
“If you’re fully vaccinated now, you are safe now,” she said at a US Chamber of Commerce Foundation event.
She said some Americans are confused and think if they are going to need a booster shot they should just wait for the booster.
“And that’s not the message we’re sending,” she said. “We’re looking at boosters to make sure that if that vaccination immunity wanes over time that we’re ready for boosters if we need it.”
Vaccines are good after six months but more data is needed to see whether their efficacy lasts longer than that, officials have said.
Walensky said decisions on boosters will likely start with those most vulnerable to Covid-19.
Get vaccinated, win a prize
In an effort to inspire more people to get vaccinated, California officials are enticing residents with a whopping $116.5 million in incentives, offering gift cards and cash prizes, including $15 million to be split among 10 Californians who have been gotten their shot(s).
Parts of the program will include every Californian who has already been vaccinated, Gov. Gavin Newsom said.
The next 2 million residents to be vaccinated, if selected, could get a $50 prepaid card or grocery store gift card.
The incentive festivities will include “$50,000 Fridays.” There will be $50,000 up for grabs in the form of 30 cash prizes for those getting a Covid-19 shot Friday, June 4 or Friday, June 11, with 15 winners selected on each date.
The Kroger grocery store chain said Thursday it would start giving away $1 million to five people and 50 awards of free groceries for a year. The Community Immunity giveaway will begin next week.
CVS Health has also announced a vaccination sweepstakes that includes Super Bowl ticket packages, a cruise, hotel stays or $5,000 for family reunions.
Race to vaccinate
Even as half of the US population is fully vaccinated, the director of the CDC expressed concern over people not receiving the vaccine.
During a Wednesday subcommittee hearing of the House Committee on Appropriations, CDC officials were asked what keeps them up at night.
“Variants, and the concern that people won’t get vaccinated and the fact that we’re not serving everybody in the country equally,” Walensky responded.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, added: “I think we have to remember the rest of the world and that while it’s getting better here there are many places at risk – so until we’re all out of this, none of us are out of this.”
Health experts have recently turned their focus to persuading young people to get vaccinated.
Young children when they become infected are less likely to have serious disease compared to an elderly person or a person who has an underlying health condition, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
However, they “are not exempt from getting serious illness,” he said during President Joe Biden’s YouTube town hall on Covid-19 vaccination. “So you want to protect the youngsters, be they adolescents, be they young children.”
Country continues to reopen
For many Americans, the Memorial Day holiday weekend marks the start of the summer season – and experts are increasingly hopeful given the trend of fewer Covid cases and more vaccinations.
“It means a lot. It means that the summer is looking bright,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine and associate division chief of the division of HIV, infectious diseases and global medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
And local leaders are gearing up for a possibly near-normal summer.
New Orleans on Friday will begin expanding how people are allowed to gather, including opening gyms at 100% capacity.
Large indoor events will be allowed at 50% capacity without masks and distancing, 100% capacity with masks required, or 100% capacity without masks if people provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours.
For large outdoor events, 75% capacity will be allowed without masks and distancing, 100% capacity with masks required, or 100% capacity without masks if people provide proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league expects full stadiums for all 32 teams next season.
“We do think it will be a much more normal experience than it has,” Goodell said on a conference call on Wednesday.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Monday that MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, home of the New York Jets and New York Giants, would be permitted to operate at full capacity.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that in-person visitation at all of Kentucky’s Department of Corrections state prisons and Department of Juvenile Justice facilities will resume the week of June 20.
The new in-person visitation guidelines only apply to 14 state prisons and not to county jails. Visitors will have to schedule their visitation in advance, Beshear said.
As of earlier this week, 76% of adult inmates housed in state custody have been vaccinated.
“And so, to those in custody – good for you! Good for you! I know you’ve seen the harms of this virus and thank you for responding in such a responsible way,” the governor said.
CNN’s Ryan Prior, Jamiel Lynch, Rebekah Riess, Gregory Lemos, Jacob Lev and Stephen Collinson contributed to this report.