With vaccine rollouts underway and numbers of new infections dropping around the United States, several states have begun to preemptively lift coronavirus restrictions and mask mandates. But health experts caution that such actions could pose a huge risk in the fight to return to normal. As more and more variants emerge around the world (and nearly all of them have begun to appear in the United States), lifting restrictions could undo the progress we have made in fighting the virus.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has expressed deep concern, noting on March 1 that the latest available data has shown new cases per day stalling around 70,000 following what was a steep decline over the past several weeks. She notes that relaxing restrictions as cases stall is exactly the opposite of what should be happening, especially with new variants beginning to spread.
Potentially Losing Ground
While the data for the past several weeks has shown a sharp decline in new cases in the US, health experts are concerned by efforts to roll back the restrictions currently in place to help prevent the spread. With cases stalling rather than continuing to decline, it’s possible that the ground we have gained could be lost.
One concern is that when restrictions are lifted, it makes it significantly easier for viruses to be transmitted from person to person. The more people the virus infects, the more opportunity we give the virus to continue to mutate and develop variants that are more effective at spreading. Already, several of the variants we have identified share a specific mutation (N501Y) that makes it easier for the virus to bind with human receptor cells—this makes these specific variants much more infectious.
The concern is the variants could potentially reinfect individuals who have already had COVID-19, and that these variants might be somewhat resistant to currently developed vaccines. If the virus is allowed to continue to spread and mutate, the consequences could be extremely serious. More and more variants could develop as the virus mutates, possibly setting the progress we have made back to the early days of the pandemic. Health experts are urging continued social distancing and mask-wearing, and individuals should get their coronavirus vaccine as soon as it is available to them. Relaxing now could compromise all the progress that has been made.