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Experts say it's a tight race between coronavirus variants and vaccines in the US as air travel hits records and spring break crowds grow

The pandemic's end is in sight -- but right now, the US is in a critical spot.A highly...

Posted: Mar 21, 2021 7:12 AM
Updated: Mar 21, 2021 7:24 AM

The pandemic's end is in sight -- but right now, the US is in a critical spot.

A highly contagious -- and potentially more deadly -- coronavirus variant is spreading across the US, threatening to send infection numbers spiking once again. Meanwhile, the number of vaccines administered across the country is growing, as officials work to get as many shots into arms as possible in hopes of soon being able to suppress the spread of the virus.

It's a "neck and neck" race between the two, one expert says.

"This is crunch time," Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Saturday. "This is going to be our most difficult period right now in terms of seeing who wins out."

With less than a quarter of all Americans having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine -- and only about 13% fully vaccinated -- doubling down on safety measures now is what could help curb another surge, experts have repeatedly stressed.

"If we can hang on another month, another six weeks, that's going to make a huge difference," Hotez added.

Instead, air travel is hitting pandemic-era records, with TSA screening more than 1.4 million people at airports Friday -- the biggest day for air travel more than a year.

Spring break crowds are swelling, with Miami Beach officials declaring a state of emergency Saturday in response to crowds the mayor says have been "more than we can handle."

And at least a dozen governors -- and multiple local leaders -- have eased restrictions this month, while several have done away with mask mandates completely.

You asked, we answered: Your top questions about Covid-19 and vaccines

Michigan cases and hospitalizations climbing

In Michigan, where the governor announced a series of eased restrictions earlier this month, officials now say the state could potentially be at the start of another surge.

"Our progress with Covid-19 is fragile," Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the state of Michigan, said in a news conference Friday. "While we're making great progress with our vaccination efforts and many people are doing the right thing by wearing masks and not gathering in large groups, what we are seeing now is very concerning data that shows that we are going in the wrong direction."

Case rates have been increasing for the past month, Khaldun said, and increased 77% since mid-February.

The state's percent of Covid-19 tests that are positive have also jumped 177% since mid-February, Khaldun said. And hospitalization rates have also been climbing for the past two weeks, Khaldun added.

Michigan has also reported the country's second-highest number of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, after Florida, according to CDC data.

"It's immensely concerning," Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in the state, told CNN Saturday. "We know in the past, cases went up, then hospitalizations, then deaths followed."

Davidson told CNN he's even more worried now that variants are circulating, and hopes the state can make enough headway to protect residents.

"It remains to be seen," Davidson said. "We just would rather not wait and find out. We'd rather get people to mask up, keep distancing and get those numbers down."

Track Covid-19 case numbers in the US

'A growing threat in our country'

There are several dangerous variants that have experts concerned.

But front and center is the B.1.1.7 variant, that was first spotted in the UK and has been rapidly spreading across the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated it will become the dominant variant of the virus in the US by the end of this month or early April.

The B.1.1.7 variant "likely accounts now for about 20 to 30% of the infections in this country and that number is growing," Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a White House briefing Friday.

It's more contagious and could cause more severe disease, Fauci added. Recent research also suggests the variant may also be associated with a higher risk of dying from Covid-19.

The good news: vaccines appear to protect well against the variant, Fauci said, and treatments like monoclonal antibodies also appear to work against it.

"The way we can counter 1.1.7, which is a growing threat in our country, is to do two things: to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible with a vaccine that we know works against this variant. And finally, to implement the public health measures that we talk about all the time," Fauci said.

"Masking, physical distancing, and avoiding congregate settings, particularly indoors," he added.

More than 43 million Americans fully vaccinated

So far, more than 79 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data, and more than 43 million are fully vaccinated.

The growing numbers are encouraging, but experts say the country still has a long way to go to reach the levels needed to suppress spread of the virus -- and must address the vaccine hesitancy as well as political divisions that stand in the way.

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said Friday that while he encouraged everyone to get vaccinated and thinks it's the right thing to do, he knows there will be a "certain amount of people" who are not going to take the vaccine, "and they have every right to do that."

"We got to do a better job of making sure everybody understands the importance of the vaccine, and yet maintain the respect of people that don't want to take a vaccine, and it is going to be a challenge to see how many people we can get done, but we're going to do everything we can," the governor said.

A recent CNN poll conducted by SSRS, showed that while 92% of Democrats say they have gotten a dose of the vaccine or plan to get one, that falls to 50% among Republicans. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp said earlier this month officials across the state are working with local organizations, like local churches and civic clubs, to tackle vaccine hesitancy -- including among White Republicans.

To get more shots into arms faster, many state leaders have also extended eligibility guidelines, with some already setting a date for when all requirements will be lifted.

Here's what states have said so far about Covid-19 vaccine eligibility

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 319704

Reported Deaths: 7369
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22276267
Hinds20677421
Harrison18407317
Rankin13880282
Jackson13689248
Madison10249224
Lee10056176
Jones8464167
Forrest7827153
Lauderdale7260242
Lowndes6509150
Lamar634888
Lafayette6310121
Washington5420137
Bolivar4837133
Panola4669110
Oktibbeha466098
Pearl River4604147
Marshall4573105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425373
Union415777
Monroe4155135
Neshoba4061179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386687
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3369111
Alcorn325972
Scott320174
Yazoo314171
Adams307486
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298189
Tippah291968
Prentiss283861
Leake271974
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264442
Grenada264087
George252051
Newton248663
Tishomingo231568
Winston229981
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190374
Clay187854
Stone187833
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164034
Walthall135347
Greene131833
Lawrence131024
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127138
Amite126342
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108033
Tunica108027
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69532
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548323

Reported Deaths: 11288
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson809531565
Mobile42066826
Madison35663525
Tuscaloosa26162458
Shelby25595254
Montgomery25081612
Baldwin21839313
Lee16265176
Calhoun14718325
Morgan14626285
Etowah14171363
Marshall12449230
Houston10764288
Elmore10295213
Limestone10182157
St. Clair10160251
Cullman9941201
Lauderdale9596249
DeKalb8967189
Talladega8458184
Walker7335280
Autauga7230113
Blount6944139
Jackson6922113
Colbert6414140
Coffee5627127
Dale4929114
Russell454941
Chilton4472116
Franklin431083
Covington4273122
Tallapoosa4136155
Escambia401780
Chambers3726124
Dallas3607156
Clarke352961
Marion3242106
Pike314078
Lawrence3129100
Winston283572
Bibb268464
Geneva257581
Marengo250665
Pickens236862
Barbour234659
Hale226878
Butler224071
Fayette218162
Henry193843
Cherokee187245
Randolph187044
Monroe179341
Washington170439
Macon162951
Clay160159
Crenshaw155657
Cleburne153244
Lamar146537
Lowndes142054
Wilcox127030
Bullock124242
Conecuh113430
Coosa111429
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93534
Choctaw62025
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We continue to monitor a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico. This will be in heavy rainfall two locations across the southeast over the course of the weekend, and flooding rainfall could be in tow as well. Things are looking better for Father’s Day itself, thankfully.
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