New coronavirus infections in the US have fallen to the lowest level in 11 months, a sign that the country remains on track to regain a sense of normality by the summer.
States reported 24,080 new infections on May 9, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the fewest since June. The US has averaged 38,678 infections a day over the past week, the lowest level since mid-September and an 85 per cent drop from a peak in early January of about 250,000 a day.
“We are [on] the verge of having Covid on the run in the US thanks to Americans getting vaccinated,” Andy Slavitt, a senior White House coronavirus adviser, wrote on Twitter on Monday.
The sharp decline in infections has tracked a swift rise in vaccinations, as in other countries with successful mass inoculation programmes such as Israel and the UK.
More than 152m Americans have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to CDC data, and 34.8 per cent of the total population has been fully vaccinated.
As a result, a growing number of governors have announced steps to reopen state economies in the weeks and months ahead, including lifting restrictions on businesses, most activities and, in some cases, mask mandates.
But the speed at which states have managed to bring their latest outbreaks under control has varied. Michigan, New York and New Jersey have taken longer than others such as California, which overcame an acute shortage of hospital resources and has the second-lowest per capita rate of cases among US states, after Alabama.
But even as coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths are in decline, so is the rate of vaccinations. The US has reported a daily average of 2.1m doses administered over the past seven days, down from a peak of 3.4m in mid-April.
Some state and city leaders are offering incentives such as beer, money and tickets to attractions in an effort to encourage hesitant residents to get vaccinated, joining numerous private employers and businesses that are encouraging their workers and customers.
By state, Connecticut is faring best, with 45 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, while Mississippi lags with just 25.1 per cent of its residents having completed their dosage regimens, according to the CDC.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, warned last month that there were “unsettling gaps” in vaccination rates across the country and that “areas of the lightest coverage now might be where the virus strikes next”.
Although the pace of the rollout has slowed, vaccines remain critical to helping the US avoid another damaging wave of infections, especially as more infectious strains circulate.
The Memorial day public holiday, which falls on the final Monday of May and is often marked by social gatherings, was regarded by many public health officials as the launching pad for a wave of coronavirus infections that hit many sunbelt states last summer.
Additional reporting by Matthew Rocco in New York