Millions of Americans have their lives and livelihoods back and are basking in a summer of freedom. But a divided nation’s varied faith in vaccines and a more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus are thwarting hopes of a full declaration of independence from the pandemic.
President Joe Biden long ago named the Fourth of July as the moment when citizens would escape the clutches of the virus — if the country united in one last huge effort to follow health guidelines and embraced the vaccine rollout. Biden fell short of his target of 70% of American adults getting at least one dose of vaccine by the holiday. In a briefing this week, Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said that more than 180 million Americans — and 67% of adults — had received at least one shot. There are fears that the disease hasn’t been sufficiently suppressed to avoid new spikes of infections this summer or when the weather turns cold. Still, it is indisputable that the country is in far better shape than this time last year — or even six months ago.
Cities are buzzing and the sudden bounce back in demand from travelers and diners has stunned a sector that was not prepared to handle the influx as labor shortages persist. Even the cruise industry, the early symbol of the threat as ships full of voyagers fell sick, is getting ready to slip its moorings. New Covid-19 cases are averaging around 12,600 a day, far lower than the 250,000-level recorded in the painful days of winter. Deaths are also lower than they were. But despite the vastly improved picture, an average of 257 Americans are dying every single day, according to the seven-day average tracked this week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.