BOSTON (AP) – For Dr. Jeremy Faust, the moment he realized the pandemic no longer dominated his workday came on Remembrance Day weekend, when he saw no cases of two-shift coronavirus in the emergency department. at Brigham and Women Hospital in Boston.
Kerry LaBarbera, an ER nurse a few miles away at Boston Medical Center, had a similar realization that same weekend when only two patients with COVID-19 came through her unit, one of the busiest in New England.
“The past year and a half has been like going through a tornado or something terrible,”
Massachusetts and the rest of New England – the most heavily vaccinated region in the United States – give the rest of the country a possible view of the future if more Americans get their pictures.
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the region are steadily declining, with more than 60% of the population in all six countries receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.
By comparison, the deep southern states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are the least vaccinated by about 35%, and new cases in terms of population are usually higher there than in most of New England. Nationally, about 50% of Americans have received at least one shot.
In Massachusetts last week, health officials found that none of the cities and towns of the state were at high risk of spreading COVID-19 for the first time since they began issuing weekly assessments last August.
In Rhode Island, coronavirus hospitalizations reached their lowest levels in about eight months. New Hampshire averaged about a week’s death after a peak of about 12 a day during the winter tide of the virus. And Vermont, the most heavily vaccinated state in the United States with more than 70 percent, passed more than two weeks without a single report of coronavirus death.
“It’s an amazing change in such a short period of time,” said Dr. Tim Lahi, an infectious disease physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
Public health experts say the rest of the country may take some signals from New England, as President Joe Biden insists on receiving at least one dose of vaccine for 70% of older Americans by July 4, hanging the promise of free beer and other extras .
One thing the region seems to have done right: It has generally been slower than other parts of the country to expand eligibility for vaccines and instead focused more on reaching vulnerable groups, said Dr Thomas Frieden. former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Barack Obama.
New England leaders for the most part also accepted the recommendations of public health experts on economic priorities during the pandemic, said Dr. Albert Co., who is chair of the epidemiological department at Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut. .
The fact that parts of the region were among the worst affected in the early days of the outbreak also played a significant role.
“We really went through that in those early moments,” Ko said. “This has left a big mark on the population as a whole.”
Of course, some of the improvements in COVID-19 numbers could be attributed to warmer weather, allowing New Englanders to move further away outdoors, experts say.
Countries like California and Nebraska are also doing better, if not better, than some states in New England when it comes to new population cases. And racial differences in vaccinations continue to exist in the region, as well as in many other parts of the country.
In a series of tweets last weekend, Dr. Ashish Ja, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island, countered the relatively low levels of vaccination in Springfield, Massachusetts, one of the largest, most diverse and poorest. cities in the region, with almost complete vaccination of Newton, a rich, largely white suburb of Boston.
“So, if you are in a state of high vaccination, your job is not done,” Ja wrote. “Because there are too many people and communities across America for whom vaccines are still inaccessible.”
Nationally, new coronavirus cases are declining on average to around 15,000 per day, while deaths have fallen to around 430 per day – levels not seen since the end of March 2020, in the very early stages of the crisis. The total death toll in the United States is only 600,000.
Even with a drastic reduction in cases, New England hospitals are in many ways busier than ever, as patients return in crowds after delaying medical care for more than a year.
Dr. Catherine Gergen Barnett, head of the family medicine department at Boston Medical Center, said it was “energizing” to connect with regular patients, but also taxation, as many have mental trauma for a year. to suffer, on top of neglected physical ailments.
“There’s definitely a bit of an exhalation going on,” she said. “We ran this marathon, but now we have another long race ahead of us in terms of restoring people’s health.”
Paul Murphy, a nurse at the Brigham and Women Emergency Department, said some of his colleagues felt tired and burned out as frustrated patients could face hours of waiting. A hospital spokesman stressed that the average waiting time was an hour or less.
Still, the 54-year-old Warwick resident, Rhode Island, said it was refreshing to retire from work as the region came to life. The pandemic’s 50-hour work week is over, and there is now time for his children’s sports practices and other commitments, Murphy said.
Faust, Brigham’s emergency physician, said he had recently achieved almost all day sleep without guilt, something he could not dream of during the pandemic.
But like other health experts, he worries that delaying vaccinations could make the nation vulnerable to newer, stronger viral mutations.
“We play roulette if we continue to let the virus infect so many people,” Faust said. “That’s what keeps me awake at night.”
Associated Press reporters Lisa Ratke in Marshfield, Vermont; Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine; Katie McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; and Mark Pratt of Boston contributed to this story.