Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement that he plans to end the major COVID-19 emergency rules regarding masks, mass gatherings and social distancing on June 1 sounds like good news.
But actually it may be just an admission that the new normal has arrived.
The average number of new cases of COVID-19 varies up and down but remains in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 a day. That’s higher than when Cooper first issued the mandate to wear face masks in June.
The number of people requiring hospital treatment for the virus had been increasing for over three weeks before Cooper made his announcement, from a pandemic low of 882 on March 27 to 1,168 — an increase of 32% — the day before his press conference.
The one real area of improvement is the number of deaths, which most often the past few weeks has been fewer than 10 a day, the least since the very earliest days of the pandemic, owing largely to the current high vaccination levels (over 75%) among older residents who are at the highest risk of severe complications from COVID-19.
And maybe the governor is acknowledging that’s about the most progress we are likely to be able to make.
More than half of the state’s adult population is at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, and about one-third currently seems to have no intention of getting vaccinated, so we are closing in on having everyone protected who cares to be protected.
Nationwide, in early May we may reach the point at which everybody in the United States who wants a COVID-19 vaccination will have gotten one, the Kaiser Family Foundation says. That will leave us far short of so-called herd immunity, the level of immunity that offers the virus only rare chances to spread.
If those who are resisting getting a shot cannot be swayed, they are making a conscious choice to take their chances, obviously, but they also ensure there are ready harbors of infection to keep the virus circulating.
Even if that weren’t the case, though, health officials have long said that it is unlikely that COVID-19 will simply go away on its own and that it could become endemic, a constant presence much as the common seasonal flu is, though obviously more dangerous.
Maybe that’s where we are now. The coronavirus numbers we see now may be in the lowest range that we will experience until science comes up with a better weapon against the virus.
And we know that people — all of us, science believers and anti-maskers alike — are bone-weary tired of all the precautions.
Cooper said that more details will be released in the coming week. When that happens, he and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, also should explain their long-term view and what the science tells them about the direction we are headed.
If June 1 is not an ending but just a new beginning, people need to know that.