The status of the pandemic, in three graphs

The public debate on “collective immunity” often treats it as an on-off switch: when the United States achieves collective immunity, the crisis will be over; so far, the country has little immunity against Covid-19.

But this is not fair.

Collective immunity is more like a dimmer. The more immunity people develop – either by being infected or by being vaccinated – the less easily the virus will spread.

Nearly 30% of Americans have now had the virus, according to Youyang Gu, a data scientist. (This includes many people who have never had a Covid test.) About 18% received at least one shot of the vaccine. There is some overlap between these two groups, which means that about 40 percent of Americans now have some protection against Covid.

If these people had been exposed to the virus a year ago, they could have been infected – then spread Covid to others. Today, many are protected.

“This level of population immunity slows down transmission,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the Washington Post. “After millions of infections and the start of a vaccination campaign, the virus is finally slowly starting to run out of new people to infect.”

The pandemic is still far from over. And the situation could get even worse, due to a combination of risky behavior and new viral variants. Experts are particularly worried about the rush by some states to lift mask warrants and restrictions on indoor gatherings. For now, however, viral trends are improving, largely thanks to the increased level of immunity.

The last time I gave you an overview of the situation in the United States – two weeks ago – I pointed out a mix of positive trends (decreasing nursing home deaths and encouraging vaccine news) and negative (increase in the number of cases and decrease in the number of vaccinations). Since then, the good news has largely continued, and not the bad. Below is a new update, using three charts.

When the number of new cases started to rise last month, it was reasonable to question whether the most contagious viral variants were about to trigger a nationwide wave. They do not have. In retrospect, the increase in February looks like a blip:

One caveat, as you can see from the chart, is that the recent decline is much milder than the declines during most of January and February. The reasons are not entirely clear and variations may play a role. Either way, this is another sign that the pandemic is not about to end.

The current pace will not be impressive for long. By the end of the month, the federal government will receive on average more than three million doses per day, from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. At this point, three million shots daily will 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 normal life returns.

I recommend that you keep in mind two different ideas about the variants at the same time: First, one or more of the variants could create terrible problems – by being highly contagious, by re-infecting people who already had Covid, or by causing even more serious symptoms. A UK study published yesterday, for example, found that variant B.1.1.7 increases the risk of death in unvaccinated people.

But – here’s the second idea – the overall evidence on the variants has been more encouraging so far than many people expected. Vaccines virtually eliminate hospitalizations and deaths in people who contract a variant. Reinfection does not appear to be generalized. And while the variants are more contagious, they haven’t caused the kind of flare-ups that seemed possible a few weeks ago.

In Florida, where B.1.1.7 has spread widely, “there is no sign of an increase in cases”, Dr Eric Topol from Scripps Research wrote. In South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant was detected for the first time, cases are nevertheless plunging:

That’s a remarkable drop, considering the variant. What explains it? Growing natural immunity seems to be part of the reason, the Financial Times reported. Increasing vaccinations is also helpful. The same applies to restrictions imposed by South Africa in late December and January, including “a ban on the sale of alcohol, the closure of all land borders and most beaches, and an extended curfew. “Bloomberg explained.

The situation in South Africa also serves as a useful summary of the US position: Natural immunity has become an important force in slowing the pandemic, but government policy can still make a big difference, by speeding up vaccination. and discouraging unnecessarily risky behavior.

Over the past week, 12,000 more Americans have died from 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 inoculate children once the FDA clears it.

  • The Biden administration has relaxed its guidelines for visits to nursing homes. The advisory recommends exterior visits, but states that “responsible interior visits” should be permitted.

Ten years after: In 2011, a tsunami destroyed the Japanese village of Kesen. The residents realized that the void is eternal.

From the review: If American democracy is to survive, the filibuster must end, argues the Times editorial board.

Lives lived: In 1994, thieves stole “The Scream”, Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, from the National Gallery in Oslo. Three months later he was returned, in large part thanks to the efforts of a Scotland Yard detective named Charles Hill. Hill died at 73.

Last month, someone bought an animated gif of a flying cat for over $ 500,000. A short video by artist Beeple cost almost $ 7 million. Anyone can still view or share the clips. So what’s the use of owning them?

This may not make sense to everyone – and has elements of a financial bubble. It mostly comes down to very expensive bragging rights, as well as the ability to resell it for more money.

These rights are known as NFT, short for “non-fungible tokens”. “It seems crazy to do this for something purely digital that can be easily copied and shared over the internet,” Erin Griffith, a Times tech reporter who wrote on The Trend, told us. “But the popularity of NFTs shows that people are willing to pay for special and rare collectibles.”

Technology has made it easier for artists, musicians and sports franchises to make money from digital products. The NBA recently introduced a series of NFTs, Top Shot, which turn highlight clips into collectible cards. In music, Kings of Leon’s latest album is an NFT.

Yesterday’s Spelling Bee pangram was manual. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.

Here are today’s mini crosswords and a hint: Pops (three letters).

If you want to play more, find all of our games here.


Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. Until tomorrow. – David

PS The Senate confirmed that Janet Reno was the country’s first female attorney general 28 years ago today. The Times article quoted a certain senator from Delaware congratulating her: “President Clinton – even though this is not the first time at bat – has hit a home run.

You can see today’s printed homepage here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” deals with the parallels between Diana and Meghan. In “Sway”, Spike Lee talks about his films.

Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar have contributed to The Morning. You can join the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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