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This is the beginning of the end of the pandemic

With cases going down and vaccines ramping up, many believe that the end of the era of quarantines is near, says RB’s The Bottom Line.
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The Bottom Line

The rate of new cases of COVID-19, along with hospitalizations and deaths, has been plunging over the past several weeks, providing new hope that this is the beginning of the end of the yearlong pandemic. Maybe closer than you think.

Analysts at J.P. Morgan recently noted that the effective end of the pandemic is at hand within “40 to 70 days,” according to Barrons. That’s as aggressive a timeline that’s out there. But it isn’t the only such aggressive timeline.

Dr. Marty Markay, a professor with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. could have “herd immunity by April.”

To be sure, these are optimistic views. If we’ve learned one thing over the past year, it’s that such optimism should be taken with a grain of salt—remember that early in the pandemic we were told to expect a shutdown of about two months. We’re about to enter our second year.

In the past, declines in cases have often led to overconfidence that led to subsequent spikes in cases, such as the one over the summer in several Southern states.

Over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said that we could be wearing masks into next year. He also said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the level of infection remains high right now.

“The slope that’s coming down is really terrific,” he said. “It’s very steep, and it’s coming down very, very quickly. But we are still at a level that’s very high.”

Fauci’s caution comes as the U.S. just recorded its 500,000th death from the coronavirus—which makes it the leading cause of death in the country. Many others have long-term problems from the infection. It’s a terrible illness, in other words, which is why states have closed dining rooms and instituted other restrictions.

Still, it’s clear that, much like The Atlantic wrote last week, we are at the beginning of the end of this pandemic.

The difference between what is happening now, and what happened last summer after states loosened restrictions, is that more people are being vaccinated. And it’s entirely possible that all adults will be eligible to receive the vaccine in April, which on its own should speed the timeline of a reopening even if many people remain skeptical of being inoculated.

A lot of this enthusiasm comes from the plunge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Weekly cases fell 26% last week, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Fewer than 600 new cases were reported last week, down from 1.7 million at the peak in early January. Hospitalizations fell 18%, and deaths were down 21% last week.

Meanwhile, more people have been vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 19.4 million have received two doses.

While it may be going too far to say that the pandemic will be “effectively over” by April, it’s still clear that we are headed for the exits. And this era of dine-in shutdowns and closed-off events will soon be a thing of the past. How soon remains to be seen.

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