Signs of hope even as nation reaches 500,000 coronavirus deaths | Editorial

Editorial Board, Tampa Bay Times
·3 min read

America on Monday crossed the threshold of 500,000 coronavirus deaths, a staggering total that has spared no corner of the country. But this marker also came against the backdrop of encouraging news, both locally and nationally, as hospitalizations continue to drop, the federal government ramps up the distribution of vaccine and as experts predict a healthy recovery once the nation gets over the elusive hump.

After the virus was first detected in the United States early last year, it took four months to kill 100,000 Americans. About that many have died in just the last month, as the country approached the 500,000 milestone. Officials say the actual death toll is likely much higher, in part because of inadequate testing and reporting early in the pandemic. Even after months of public health precautions, and the rollout of vaccines, the death toll could near 590,000 by June 1. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, told CNN on Sunday: “It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years.”

Still, there were positive signs over the weekend. The number of Americans hospitalized for COVID-19 reached the lowest since Nov. 7, indicating an end to the holiday surge. Across the U.S., case numbers are dropping rapidly, and deaths last week were down 20 percent from the week before. Experts say the impact of vaccinations are finally appearing in the data, reflected by the declines of deaths in long-term care facilities. The number of new cases and hospitalizations has also dropped in Florida, while deaths — a lagging indicator — have stabilized. This is a welcome relief for families and the nation’s exhausted health care system, and it offers a window for improving the delivery of vaccines to hard-hit areas.

To that end, Friday’s announcement that the federal government would open four mass vaccination sites in the Sunshine State, including one at the Tampa Greyhound Track, is another step in getting shots into arms more quickly. The four sites in Florida — in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami — will help bring in thousands of additional shots per day while fielding mobile satellite units to inoculate hard-to-reach populations. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who initially criticized President Joe Biden’s idea to deploy federally-supported vaccination sites, was right to change course and cooperate in the effort. “We couldn’t be more excited,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said of the new federal site in the bay area. A successful rollout could be a model for expanding the effort to other Florida locations.

The improving health picture has led many economists to predict a robust, post-COVID recovery. Nearly 40 forecasters surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia expect the U.S. economy will grow 4.5 percent in 2021 and 3.7 percent next year, stronger estimates than the outlook only three months ago. While public health restrictions are still hurting restaurants, retailers and other industries, many Americans are eager to get out and spend. The federal COVID relief packages have helped homeowners and businesses buy time, and experts see a ramped up vaccination effort as key to rebuilding the economy.

These good signs help blunt the shock of a death toll the nation hardly could have imagined a year ago. The Biden administration was right over the weekend to reinforce the need for Americans to wear masks and to use good judgment while out in public. The pandemic is still here, and while the trends are moving in a better direction, the nation must remain vigilant to get control of the virus.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.