United States officials are warning the country not to become complacent, as daily COVID-19 case numbers remain steady while related deaths continue to decline off their record highs earlier this year. Overnight the United States recorded 751 deaths, down from a peak of over 5 000 deaths on 12 February as vaccinations reached an average of 2.4 million shots per day.

But with warmer weather approaching, air travel has already begun to pick up as early signs point to Americans letting down their guard particularly in warmer regions like Florida. It is scenes like the revelers in Miami, Florida that have health officials bristling.

During spring break, many go around unmasked and gather in large groups, relishing lax protocols even as national numbers average between 50 000 and 60 000 new cases per day.

“I’m pleading with you, for the sake of our nation’s health.  These should be warning signs for all of us.  Cases climbed last spring. They climbed again in the summer. They will climb now if we stop taking precautions when we continue to get more and more people vaccinated. Please follow our recommended public health prevention precautions and be ready to get your vaccine when it is available to you. We are just starting to turn the corner. The data is moving in the right direction, but where this goes is dependent on whether we all do what must be done to protect ourselves and others,” says Director of the Centres for Disease Control Dr. Rochelle Walensky

There are concerns that a resurgence in case numbers in Europe is indicative of what might follow in the United States.

“Equally concerning are the resurgences we are now seeing in some European countries, countries that have had strikingly similar trends and surges during the pandemic as the United States. Each of these countries has had nadirs like we are having now, and each took an upward trend after they disregarded known mitigation strategies.  They simply took their eye off the ball.”

Progress made in vaccinations

Daily vaccinations hit peaks over the weekend at 3.2 and 2.7 million shots administered on Saturday and Sunday respectively with at least 37 million Americans fully-vaccinated or around 107 million who have received at least one dose of a two-dose regimen.

“Nearly 30% of adults and nearly two-thirds of seniors have now received their first vaccination shot.  And we are accelerating vaccinations in anticipation of meeting the President’s goal of being ready to be – open up all vaccinations to all adults by May 1st at the latest. Over the last seven days, we’re now averaging 2.4 million shots per day, ” says senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 Response Team Andy Slavitt.

Further concerns have been triggered by a spike in air travel- this past Friday saw the highest number of travelers since a pandemic was declared.

“With the coming of warmer weather, I know it’s tempting to want to relax and to let our guard down, particularly after a hard winter that sadly saw the highest level of cases and deaths during the pandemic so far. This past Friday, we saw more travelers pass through our airports: over 1.3 million. This is the most travelers that we’ve had in a single day since last March before the WHO declared the global pandemic.  We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities maskless.  This is all in the context of still 50 000 cases per day,” says CDC’s Dr. Walensky.

The psychology of this moment is more nuanced than March 2020, vaccinations are being ramped up countrywide with President Joe Biden announcing last week that he will direct states to make all adult Americans eligible to receive a vaccine if they want to by May 1st.

Hospitalisations are down from their January peaks of 130 000 to between 30 000 and 40 000. So there is a palpable sense that better days are coming, what public health officials are shouting from the rooftops is “not so fast”.