As the vaccine is slowly rolling out, January became the deadliest month of the pandemic in the U.S. At least 95,373 people died from Covid-19 in the first month of 2021, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
As a result, cemeteries are struggling to keep up with demand as bodies accumulate, and in Los Angeles County lawmakers had to raise air quality limits on how many cremations can be performed each month. Even though daily case rates and hospitalizations appear to be falling, experts warn that “a hurricane” surge is approaching as new, more contagious mutations of the virus are found across the country.
Those new variants could become the dominant strain by March, the CDC has announced. And that strain—and possibly others—are likely already spreading through the country largely undetected because the U.S. is not doing enough genetic sequencing of Covid-19 samples to track them. Scientists at the University of Washington predict that even in a best-case scenario, the United States will see nearly 200,000 more deaths before May 1.
“Right now we are in an absolute race against time with these variants, with trying to get people vaccinated before they spread too much across our country,” Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency physician and director of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health in Rhode Island, told CNN. “It means that just going to the grocery store, to school or to work could become more dangerous. We have an already overtaxed and exhausted health care system.”
She added, “We have a little breathing room right now. But if these new variants become dominant in our country, we are going to be right back where we were in November and December—and perhaps even worse.”
During his first days in office, President Joe Biden has focused on stopping the spread of the virus. His first executive order mandated mask-wearing for federal employees and contractors. He created a national testing board and announced the U.S. would rejoin the World Health Organization, as well as the global coalition to accelerate vaccine development and access, COVAX. The White House also announced Monday that it will be purchasing 8.5 million rapid over-the-counter Covid-19 tests. These tests, manufactured by Australian company Ellume, can be taken at home and give results in 15 minutes. The $230 million federal contract will have Ellume shipping 100,000 test kits per month to the United States through July. Biden also plans to use the Defense Production Act to produce medical and personal protective equipment. Biden also wants to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his administration.
To keep yourself safe in the coming months, experts recommend wearing a high-quality mask that fits your face well and covers your nose. Try to get vaccinated when local regulations allow. And stay home if at all possible.
As Biden’s CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing last week, “The emergence of variants underscores the need for public health action. First, get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Second, wear a mask. Practice social distancing and wash your hands. And finally, now is not the time to travel. But, if you must, be safe and follow the CDC guidance.”