Increased availability of COVID-19 vaccines and falling infection rates hold the promise of a return to typical summer activities, said Mark McClellan of Duke University.
“We should see a lot of progress on reopening in the summer,” McClellan told reporters Thursday. “It will be a good opportunity to test out how much we can start going back to going to sporting events and concerts.”
McClellan, director of the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke, anticipated that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will soon be approved for adolescents, which would help contain outbreaks in fall and winter.
There are some unknowns, including how far variants are spreading.
The United States doesn’t have a good system for finding variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, McClellan said. As a result, most states don’t know how many people have been infected with them.
The CDC announced this week that it is working to increase the number of specimens that have their genetic codes examined, a process called sequencing, as part of a national surveillance program.
“This is a technology we have in place and can apply widely,” he said. “We just need to get the infrastructure in place.”
The CDC says that the variant first identified in the United Kingdom has been responsible for 40 of North Carolina’s COVID-19 cases, and the variant first identified in South Africa was responsible for three of the state’s cases. The CDC says that these variants are more easily spread, and that the variant identified in the United Kingdom likely makes people sicker.
The increased pace of vaccinations in the country has slowed the spread of variants.
“The more people get vaccinated, the fewer opportunities there are for the virus to spread,” McClellan said. That means the virus doesn’t get a chance to create more copies of itself and there are fewer opportunities for variants to emerge.
North Carolina has seen a big decline in new COVID-19 cases since peaks in December and January, though the numbers of new cases reported daily has started to level off. COVID-19 hospitalizations dipped below 1,000 this week for the first time in months.
Gov. Roy Cooper said this week that he anticipated that every adult in the state would be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations by early May.
The country will need to continue to monitor for variants and determine whether they respond to vaccines, and whether people infected with those variants respond to therapies, McClellan said.
“I do think we’re going to have to be vigilant for a while,” he said.