In a sign of both the shrinking coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and remarkable efficacy of the vaccines, San Francisco General Hospital had zero COVID-19 patients on Thursday, for the first time since March 2020.
"This is a huge milestone in the pandemic to show the power of the effectiveness of the vaccines," Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at U.C. San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle, noting that 76 percent of San Francisco residents 16 and older are at least partially vaccinated. "This milestone continues to assure us the epidemic in San Francisco is no longer a public health threat."
Dr. Sumant Ranji, chief of San Francisco General's hospital medicine division, said it's "gratifying" to have progressed so far since the first COVID-19 cases in the Bay Area. He said the hospital hit a high of 67 COVID-19 patients on Jan. 19, but saw steady improvements as people got vaccinated.
The U.S. also hit a promising 14-month milestone Thursday: According to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths has fallen below 500 for the first time since March 31, 2020. White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt credited the vaccines.
"The virus is running out of places to be communicable," Slavitt told The New York Times.
There are still grim benchmarks — Texas on Thursday became the second state, after California, to surpass 50,000 total recorded COVID-19 deaths, and India on Wednesday recorded 4,529 new coronavirus deaths, topping the previous one-day record set by the U.S. on Jan. 12.
But make no mistake, "the pandemic is in retreat," David Leonhardt writes Friday in the Times, and in the U.S., "there is now an excellent chance that the retreat is permanent. Victory over COVID has not yet arrived, but it is growing close," and "the progress is cause for genuine joy." The sharp decline in U.S. cases over the past 30 days "virtually guarantees that deaths will fall over the next month," he adds. "This isn't merely a theoretical prediction. In Britain, one of the few countries to have given a shot to a greater share of the population than the U.S., deaths are down more than 99 percent from their peak."