New coronavirus infections in the US have fallen to the lowest level in 11 months, in a sign 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 on Monday, the fewest since June. The US has averaged 38,678 new infections a day over the past week, the lowest since mid-September and an 85 per cent drop from a peak rate in early January of about 250,000 a day.
“We are in the verge of having Covid on the run in the US thanks to Americans getting vaccinated,” Andy Slavitt, a senior White House coronavirus adviser, tweeted on Monday.
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 list of governors have announced steps to reopen their economies in the weeks and months ahead that include the lifting restrictions on businesses, most activities and, in some cases, mask mandates.
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 like California, which overcame an acute shortage of hospital resources and now has the second-lowest per capita rate of new 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 new doses administered in the past seven days, down from a peak rate of 3.4m in mid-April.
Some state and city leaders are now 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 offering incentives to vaccinated 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 in helping the US avoid another damaging wave of infections, especially as more infectious variant 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 hard over the summer.
Additional reporting by Matthew Rocco in New York