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The race between variants and vaccines in US will be a close call, expert warns, and eased restrictions aren’t helping

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“It will be a close call,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told CNN on Tuesday. “We are vaccinating very well, this is the good news. These variants are spreading quite quickly all over the country, that’s bad news. “

“For me, I think the vaccine should be won,” Jha added. “Here’s the big but: what Texas, Mississippi, other states are doing to relax and get rid of mask orders and the kind of performance as if everything is back to normal, this is definitely falling into place. side of variants “.

The governors of Texas and Mississippi are at least a dozen state leaders who have eased restrictions this month – many credit improvements in Covid-19 numbers and increased vaccinations.

But in 15 states, new cases of Covid-19 reported during the week ending Tuesday were at least 10 percent higher than a week ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. According to the data, in two of these states, Minnesota and Michigan, the cases were more than 40% more than a week earlier.

New cases continue to decline in the United States in general, and experts say more sustained data are needed to identify a trend (at least a couple of weeks). But with multiple concerning variants circulating across the country, capturing early warning signals may be key to limiting continued spread.

A medical worker removes the Covid-19 vaccine from his bottle during a public vaccination ceremony at Washington National Cathedral on March 16, 2021 in Washington, DC

US creating a “perfect storm” scenario for the spread of variants

There are several variants that concern experts right now.

They include two coronavirus strains were first detected in California which are now officially “variants of concern,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Variants may be about 20% more transmissible, according to the agency citing early research, and some treatments may also be less effective against strains. The CDC did not say the vaccines would stop working against them.

But there is one that is “central,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

This is variant B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the UK and is now projected to become the dominant variant in the US in a matter of weeks, according to the CDC.

Coronavirus strains first detected in California are officially

“Our current models … project that by the end of March, beginning of April, B.1.1.7 will be the dominant variant,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday.

There have been at least 4,690 cases of the variant reported in the U.S., and this probably does not represent the total number of cases nationwide, but only those that have been found by scientists analyzing positive samples. The variant has been detected in at least 48 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC.

“I think the next few weeks will be all about B.1.1.7 and the race we have between the vaccine and the variant,” Osterholm said. “Freeing ourselves as we are right now … we are creating a perfect storm scenario for this virus to spread.”

Different approaches to St. Patrick’s Day

At the same time, health officials say yes fundamental to determining how the pandemic continues to develop, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will also look different in some parts of the country.

Some Irish pubs in New Orleans have announced they will not open the celebrations, citing concerns about the spread of Covid-19 and restrictions on businesses.

Chicago surprises the city with the traditional green river for St. Patrick's Day after saying the event was canceled

Finn McCool’s Irish pub, located in the Mid-City area, wrote on Facebook on Monday that crowds “would not allow us to comply with state and city regulations.”

“As much as we would like to be open and see everyone’s faces, doing so would endanger not only our staff, but also the community,” the message states.

New Orleans officials eased restrictions last week, allowing retail stores, restaurants, salons and other businesses to grow to 75% of their capacity. Bars, breweries, gyms and other venues can now operate at 50% capacity.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said Tuesday that the city was open, while urging it to maintain Covid-19 mitigation efforts.

“It’s important to keep in mind that Savannah is very open. We’ve been very open. And the way we’re open is to demand the use of masks,” the mayor said, stressing the importance of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations for to the local economy.

Despite the pandemic and the warrant issued by the city, thousands of residents and tourists, some without masks and many without social distances, filled the city’s streets and businesses over the weekend.

All states have vaccinated at least 10% of adults

The party in Savannah and the crowds of spring break in Florida are examples of the hunger to return to normal, but experts say now is not the time to abandon safety precautions. A a safer future is just a few months away, when most of the country is vaccinated.
More than 72 million Americans have so far received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. More than 39 million are fully vaccinated, about 11.8% of the American population.
After getting vaccinated, it is crucial to continue masking yourself in many places (for now).  Here is why

Among the country’s population aged 65 and over, more than a third are fully vaccinated and nearly two-thirds have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

In addition, all states have completely vaccinated at least 10% of their adult population.

To increase the number of vaccines faster, many state leaders have recently announced extended eligibility guidelines, add millions of Americans to the list of people who can get shot. President Joe Biden has said he wants all American adults to be eligible for the vaccine before May 1, and some states have said they plan to get there sooner.

But while vaccinations have accelerated, the challenges – including vaccination and vaccine misinformation – remain.

The first children vaccinated in the pediatric Covid-19 vaccine trial in phase 2/3 of Moderna, according to the company

And the church may play a major role in increasing confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine, National Health Institute director Dr. Francis Collins.

“Many of those who could benefit most, as they are at the highest risk of serious and even life-threatening infections, are still being held back,” Collins said, speaking at Washington National Cathedral, where leaders of the faith came together to help strengthen confidence in the vaccine.

“Today all of you are putting hope into practice,” he said. “I hope to end the terrible suffering and loss of life of Covid-19, hope to end the economic devastation it has caused, hope that the vaccine can not only protect you, but also – if we do it together – – your family , your friends, your community, your nation, your whole world “.

CNN’s Deidre McPhillips, Jamiel Lynch, Gregory Lemos, Gisela Crespo and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.

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