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An encouraging turn in the pandemic | Editorial
More vaccinations have helped curb infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
Orange County residents wait in line for COVID-19 testing at the Orange County Health Services services drive-thru site on Damon Road in Apopka on Aug. 20, 2021.
Orange County residents wait in line for COVID-19 testing at the Orange County Health Services services drive-thru site on Damon Road in Apopka on Aug. 20, 2021.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 12

It’s too soon to declare mission accomplished, and the economy needs more time to recover. But the nation is approaching the winter holiday season in a better place with COVID-19. Now is the time to redouble the push for vaccinations and to make smart choices that’ll help America return to a sense of normal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that the seven-day average of new cases (95,448) decreased 11.6% compared with the previous week. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again declining in many parts of the country, and the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has also fallen. While 10 variants of the virus are classified as serious enough to monitor, U.S. authorities said none posed a significant or immediate risk to public health. The number of Americans getting vaccines has also increased to a three-month high, as seniors and others get booster shots and as government and many private employers make vaccinations a requirement for returning to the workplace.

Those improving trend lines are evident in Florida, too. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths all continued to fall last week as Florida’s positivity rate dropped below 5 percent for the first time since June. Data released Friday show a 33 percent drop in cases in Florida from the week before and the lowest weekly infection rate since early July. And the number of COVID-19 cases in Tampa Bay area schools last week was one tenth what it was when the academic year began. That followed a push by school districts to encourage universal masking, which included mask mandates in some of Florida’s largest school districts, including Hillsborough, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The brighter outlook is a credit to employers, a sharper public information campaign and the concerted effort by the federal government to vaccinate younger Americans and get boosters into the pipeline. Federal officials said this weekend they are preparing to push out tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine in anticipation of approving inoculations of children ages 5 to 11 by early November. Businesses have prodded holdouts to get the vaccine, and more attention has focused on the heightened risks to the unvaccinated.

The number of first-time doses administered in Florida last week was a slight improvement from the week before. But Florida still needs to improve vaccinations among nursing home residents and staff and among younger, eligible Floridians, especially before the start of the fall and winter holiday season. Aside from holiday gatherings, the coming months will also bring the annual influx of snowbirds to Florida, meaning more packed restaurants and other public venues. The state needs to provide adequate testing for the virus and improve its real-time reporting of COVID-related data.

The request Monday by drug maker Merck for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize its COVID-19 antiviral pill provided another emotional boost to a nation anxious for this pandemic to end. While vaccinations are still the single-best defense, Merck’s announcement adds to the toolbox in fighting the virus, and it should bolster public confidence in this public health campaign.

Of course, a new variant, or lagging vaccinations or even other factors could upend the encouraging trend lines. But an all-the-above strategy is working. Americans now need to see the effort through by getting vaccinated, receiving boosters and following health guidelines to reduce the virus’ spread. And while you’re at it — get your flu shot.

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.