With more than 160,000 new cases a day and about 100,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the United States, this Labor Day holiday appears gloomy amid wide-ranging, bitter realization that the coronavirus is going to remain a fact of American life for the foreseeable future.
The seven-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 160,901 nationwide on Saturday, with its 14-day change recording a 7-percent rise. COVID-19-related deaths were 1,544 on Saturday, with the 14-day change realizing a 53-percent hike, according to The New York Times (NYT).
"The irony is that things got so good in May and most of June that all of us, including me, were talking about the end game," John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted as saying. "We started to enjoy life again. Within a very few weeks, it all came crashing down."
The resurgence of the pandemic has left the country "exhausted, nervous and less certain than ever about when normalcy might return," said NYT on Sunday.
The impacts of the resurging pandemic are more apparent on campuses and at airports as the summer is fizzling out.
The recent spread of the highly contagious Delta variant has thrown back-to-school plans into disarray, temporarily driving tens of thousands of students back to virtual learning or pausing instruction altogether, reported The Wall Street Journal on Sunday.
Since the school year kicked off in late July, at least 1,000 schools across 31 states have closed because of COVID-19, according to Burbio, a Pelham, NY, data service that is monitoring school closures at 1,200 districts nationwide, including the 200 largest.
"The shutdowns are hitting classrooms especially hard in the Deep South, where most schools were among the first to open, a possible warning of what's to come as the rest of the nation's students start school this month," said the report.
In the meantime, the U.S. airline industry's recovery has been grounded by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, prompting travelers to cancel travel plans for Labor Day weekend, reported The Hill this week.
Air travel neared pre-pandemic levels in July, giving the airlines momentum and optimism for a robust fall season, but flight bookings dipped in August amid soaring infection rates fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, according to the report.
Flight bookings for Labor Day weekend were down 15 percent from pre-pandemic levels as of late August. Further back on Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened less than 1.4 million travelers, the lowest single-day total since early May, and a 34 percent decrease from the same day in 2019.
The Delta variant's two-month surge has generated a sharp rise in public fears about contracting the coronavirus, undermined confidence in U.S. President Joe Biden's leadership and renewed divisions over vaccine and mask mandates, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Nearly half of Americans, 47 percent, rate their risk of getting sick from the coronavirus as moderate or high, up 18 percentage points from late June. This follows a more than tenfold increase in daily infections. Concerns over catching the virus among partially or fully vaccinated adults have risen from 32 percent to 52 percent, while concern among unvaccinated adults has grown from 22 percent to 35 percent over the same period.
Those shifts parallel a rebound in vaccinations, with the share of adults with at least one coronavirus shot rising from 67 percent on in early July to 75 percent as of Saturday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The poll finds younger Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have become more willing to get vaccinated since this spring, a significant shift for one of the country's most vaccine-hesitant groups.
President Biden's approval rating for handling the pandemic has dropped to 52 percent from 62 percent in late June, days before he said the nation was "closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus." "At the time and as the variant has spread, he has repeatedly implored Americans to get vaccinated and wear masks," reported The Washington Post on Saturday.
The Post-ABC poll also found that 52 percent of Americans support businesses requiring employees who come into work to be vaccinated, with support dipping to 47 percent among workers who are not self-employed. Roughly 8 in 10 Democrats support vaccine mandates for workers, while more than 6 in 10 Republicans are opposed. Independents are divided nearly down the middle.
"Vaccine and mask requirements in schools have also generated fierce divisions as the academic year begins," said the Post, adding that the Post-ABC poll found public support depending on circumstances as well as by partisan viewpoint. Two-thirds of Americans overall, as well as public school parents, support school districts requiring teachers, staff and students to wear masks.
Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Anthony Fauci told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday the Pfizer coronavirus booster shot may be ready by the date the administration has aimed for, while Moderna's will likely need more time for approval.
President Biden said last month the government will offer boosters beginning the week of Sept. 20 to adults who got their shots of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna at least eight months prior.
"We were hoping that we would get the, both the candidates, both products, Moderna and Pfizer, rolled out by the week of the 20th," Fauci said. "It is conceivable that we will only have one of them out, but the other would likely follow soon thereafter."
While Pfizer is working smoothly with its booster shot, Moderna Inc. tweeted on Friday that it completed its submission to U.S. regulators for clearance of a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, starting the clock on a closely watched federal review.
Two days before the tweet was posted, the company had filed initial data concerning the supplemental dose with the Food and Drug Administration. The drug regulator will pore over the data and make a determination about whether it supports clearance of a third shot to enhance the immune protection afforded by the existing regimen.
In a related development, Ron Klain, chief of staff at the White House, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that the Biden administration will only offer COVID-19 booster shots once federal health regulators offer their support.
"I want to be absolutely clear. No one's going to get boosters until the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) says they're approved, until the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) advisory committee makes a recommendation," said Klain.
The pledge followed a report earlier this week that top federal health officials had told the White House to scale back the planned booster campaign, arguing that regulators needed more time to collect and review all the necessary data.