On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, setting off a historic fight against the respiratory illness that has killed over 2.6 million people worldwide in the year since. In the early months, there was a never-before-seen endeavor to produce personal protective equipment amid a worldwide shortage, as well as a lightspeed effort to develop and distribute testing materials for the virus while companies set out to work on a vaccine using new sequencing technology.
People were shuttered inside, businesses closed and classrooms locked. Sanitizing products flew off the shelves as federal officials grappled with trying to contain the virus through a weeks-long lockdown, or attempted to stockpile ventilators for the expected influx of hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Former President Trump formulated a White House COVID-19 Task Force and Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx became household names. Google searches for hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir soared as early research into potential treatments began trickling out.
One year later, with three COVID-19 vaccines recently receiving FDA emergency use authorization in the U.S., several states are beginning to roll back coronavirus-related restrictions such as mask mandates and social gathering limits, but several top health experts have cautioned against letting up in the fight too soon.
“After a year of this fight, we are tired, we are lonely, we are impatient,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) newly appointed director, said in a statement released Thursday. “There have been many missed family gatherings, too many lost milestones and opportunities, too many sacrifices. And still, through it all, there is determination; there are stories of giving and hope, of stamina and perseverance. We are better together, and together, we will endure.”
Walensky said the uptick in vaccine distribution in the U.S. gives her hope, but there is still more work to be done. On Wednesday, Moderna announced it would begin trialing new booster shots to combat emerging variants, namely the B.1.351, which was first detected in South Africa and has been found to impact the neutralizing antibodies produced by the existing vaccines.
In the U.S., about 10% of the population has been fully inoculated against the virus, which prompted the CDC to recently release guidelines concerning activities that can be safely resumed among this population.
“These new recommendations are a first step in our process of returning to everyday activities – safely spending time with family and friends, hugging our grandparents and grandchildren, and celebrating birthdays and holidays,” Walensky said, in part. “While we accumulate more evidence to support the safe return to everyday activities, please continue taking precautions in public and when around people who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease. Whether you are already vaccinated or not yet vaccinated, wear a well-fitted mask, practice physical distancing, wash your hands often, avoid medium and large gatherings and avoid travel. We know these measures work to prevent the spread of this virus and help protect others.”
But while social media reflects moving videos of relatives reuniting for the first time in months, the one-year anniversary also serves as a grim reminder for those still awaiting the return of all things lost, including in-person learning and the ability to socialize or participate in social activities worry-free.
The vaccines have not been approved for use in children or young adolescents, and Alaska only recently became the first state to offer the jab to anyone over age 16. For many elderly adults, the process of finding an available appointment has proved an arduous task, while anxious parents await news of a trial involving younger teens that Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has warned will likely not end until next fall.
“This pandemic will end,” Walensky continued, in her statement. “And, our public health work will continue. Through the near-blinding spotlight of this crisis, we now clearly see what we should have addressed before – the long-standing inequities that prevent us from achieving optimal health for all. We see the impact of years of neglect of our public health infrastructure. We see the critical need for data that move faster than disease, to prevent rather than react. To move past this pandemic, we must resolutely face these challenges head on and fully embrace the innovations, the new partnerships and the resilience of our communities that have emerged from this crisis. It is the only way we can turn tragedy and sorry into lasting progress and improved health for all.”
President Biden is expected to address the nation about the pandemic later Thursday.