Keri LaBarbera, an ER nurse at Boston Medical Center a few miles away, had a similar feeling over the same weekend, when just two patients with COVID-19 came through her unit, one of the busiest in New England.
“The last year and a half has been like going through a tornado or something terrible,” she said. “You’re holding on for dear life, and then you cross it and it’s like, ‘What just happened?'”
Massachusetts and the rest of New England – the region with the most vaccinations in the US – are giving the rest of the country a possible glimpse of the future if more Americans get their shots.
There has been a steady decline in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the region as more than 60% of residents in all six states have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
By comparison the Deep South states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are vaccinated at least about 35%, and new cases relative to the population are generally running higher than most of New England. Nationally, about 50% of Americans have received at least one shot.
In Massachusetts, health officials determined last week that none of the state’s cities and towns are at high risk for the spread of COVID-19 for the first time since they began issuing weekly assessments last August.
In Rhode Island, the level of coronavirus hospitalizations has hit the lowest level in nearly eight months. New Hampshire is reporting an average of one death a week after peaking at about 12 a day during the virus’s winter surge. And Vermont, the state with the most vaccinations in the US at more than 70%, went more than two weeks without a single reported coronavirus death.
“It’s an incredible change in such a short period of time,” said Dr. Tim Lahey, infectious disease physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
Public health experts say the rest of the country may take some cues from New England as President Joe Biden pushes for 70% of American adults to get at least one vaccine dose by July 4, bucking the promise of free beer and other goodies put in danger.
The region appears to have done one thing right: it was generally slower to expand vaccine eligibility than other parts of the country and instead focused more on reaching vulnerable groups of people, according to Disease Control. And said Dr. Thomas Frieden, a former Centers for Prevention director. under President Barack Obama.
Dr Albert Ko, who chairs the department of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Connecticut, said New England leaders also adopted the recommendations of public health experts on economic priorities during the pandemic.
Parts of the region that were among the hardest hit in the early days of the outbreak also played a significant role.
“We really went through it in those early moments,” Ko said. “It generally leaves a huge impression on the population.”
To be sure, some of the improvement in COVID-19 numbers can be attributed to warmer weather, which is allowing New Englanders to socially distance more, say experts.
Even states like California and Nebraska are not doing better than some New England states when it comes to new cases relative to population. And racial disparities in vaccination persist in the region, as they do in many other corners of the country.
In a series of tweets last weekend, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island, compared the relatively low vaccination rates in Springfield, Massachusetts, the region’s largest, poorest and most racially diverse is one of the cities. , an affluent, largely white Boston suburb, with an almost complete vaccination of his hometown of Newton.
“So if you’re in a state of high immunization, your job isn’t done,” Jha wrote. “Because across America, there are so many people and communities for whom vaccines are still out of reach.”
Nationwide, new coronavirus cases have dropped to an average of about 15,000 per day, while deaths have dropped to around 430 per day – a level not seen since late March 2020 during the early stages of the crisis. Overall the death toll in the US is less than 600,000.
Even with a dramatic reduction in cases, New England hospitals are busier than ever, as patients return in large numbers after suspending medical care for more than a year.
Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett, head of the department of family medicine at Boston Medical Center, said it has been “energetic” to reconnect with regular patients, but it’s also taxing, as many people have a year to work. have mental trauma, on top of them neglected physical ailments.
“There’s definitely a slight exhalation taking place,” she said. “We ran that marathon, but now it’s another long run ahead of us in terms of getting people healthy.”
Paul Murphy, an emergency department nurse at Brigham & Women, said wait times for patients in his unit often exceed six hours, and staff are feeling exhausted and burned out.
Still, the 54-year-old Warwick, Rhode Island, resident said it’s refreshing to walk away from the field of work as soon as he gets back to field life. Murphy said more than 50 hours have passed since the pandemic, now with time to his children’s sporting practices and other commitments.
Brigham’s emergency physician Faust said he recently observed almost a full day of guilt-free sleep, something he would not have even dreamed of during the pandemic.
But like other health experts, he worries that the slow pace of vaccination could leave the nation vulnerable to new, stronger virus mutations.
“We are playing roulette if we continue to let the virus infect so many people,” Faust said. “That’s what keeps me awake at night now.”
Associated Press correspondent Lisa Rathke in Marshfield, Vermont; Patrick White in Portland, Maine; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; and Mark Pratt in Boston contributed to this story.