Many of the states that have suffered the worst recent coronavirus outbreaks have seen notable declines both in new cases and in hospitalizations over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database.
For example, in Michigan, which has had one of the country’s steepest drops, the average number of daily cases sank 44 percent and hospitalizations tumbled 33 percent over that time period, as of Tuesday.
The average number of new cases is also down 32 percent in Minnesota, 38 percent in Pennsylvania and 36 percent in Florida in the past two weeks. In the same three states, hospitalizations are down 21 percent, 28 percent and 12 percent.
The progress for states like Michigan, which recently began to recover from one of its worst stretches in the pandemic, could indicate that vaccinations are beginning to rein in the virus in the United States. Hospitalization data can often lag behind case numbers for a number of reasons.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, testified at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that while she was encouraged by the gains against the pandemic, she urged Americans to remain vigilant to the threat of the virus around the world.
Ms. Walensky said getting a vaccine was the fastest way to end the pandemic.
“But even with this powerful tool, while we continue to have community transmission, we must also maintain public health measures we know will prevent the spread of this virus, mask hygiene, hand hygiene, and physical distancing,” she said.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an interview that the vaccines were a key contributor to improvements in case numbers and hospitalizations, but that the virus had behaved in surprising ways and there remained aspects about which experts still needed to learn more.
As an example of the virus’s unpredictable ebbs and flows, Dr. Osterholm pointed to Indiana, which borders Michigan and has lower vaccination rates but did not see the same recent spike in case numbers as its northern neighbor.
“I don’t see us having a national surge. We’re not going to be like India. I do think the vaccine levels have surely helped us tremendously in taking that off the table,” Dr. Osterholm said. “But I do think at the state level, where we have substantial populations that need to be vaccinated, we could still see substantial activity.”
After reaching an average peak of 3.38 million doses reported a day in mid-April, the pace of U.S. coronavirus vaccinations had declined. Nearly all states have a supply of vaccine doses that could be quickly redirected to adolescents. On Wednesday, the federal government took a final step toward making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to 12- to 15-year-olds.
President Biden is pursuing a strategy focused on local outreach and expanded accessibility to the vaccine to help reach his goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of Americans by Independence Day.
“If it’s available, if it’s nearby, if it’s convenient, people are getting vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Wednesday, highlighting initiatives like walk-up availability and free Uber and Lyft rides to vaccination sites.
Making it easier to get vaccinated could appeal to the roughly 30 million Americans who say they would get the shot, but have not yet done so for myriad reas
ons. Local officials and private businesses are also offering a wide range of different incentives, like free subway rides, beer, baseball tickets and cash payouts, to convince more reluctant Americans to get vaccinated.
The changes in the trajectory of the virus in the United States comes as other regions of the world, especially India and Southeast Asia, are getting hit hard. A number of variants are also spreading around the world, and scientists told a U.S. congressional panel on Wednesday that variants will pose a continuing threat to the nation.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said on Monday that the world was seeing a plateau in known cases, “but it is an unacceptably high plateau with more than 5.4 million cases and almost 90,000 deaths last week.”
He continued, “Any decline is welcome but we have been here before, over the past year many countries have experienced a declining trend in cases and deaths, have relaxed public health and social measures too quickly, and individuals have let down their guard only for those hard-won gains to be lost.”
Bryan Pietsch contributed reporting.
Two top executives of Emergent BioSolutions, a previously obscure Maryland biotech firm whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine, have agreed to testify on Capitol Hill next week as part of a congressional investigation into their company, a politically connected federal contractor.
Fuad El-Hibri, the company’s founder and executive chairman, and Robert Kramer, its chief executive officer, will appear on May 19 before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus, committee officials said on Wednesday morning. The panel has opened a sprawling inquiry into Emergent’s manufacturing failures, and whether the company used its contacts with the Trump administration to land hundreds of millions of dollars in coronavirus vaccine contracts.
“Emergent’s actions wasted American taxpayer dollars and reduced the number of doses available for global vaccination efforts,” Representative Jim Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the subcommittee’s chairman, said in a statement to The Times. He said that Congress “is looking for answers and they are long overdue.”
An investigation by The New York Times, published in March before the firm’s vaccine manufacturing troubles were known, examined Emergent’s aggressive lobbying tactics and lucrative relationship with the federal government.
The hearing will put an unwelcome spotlight on the company, which kept a low profile over the past two decades as it cornered the market on sales of anthrax vaccines and other bioterror-related products to the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency medical reserve.
Emergent’s stock performed so well in 2020 that Mr. El-Hibri cashed in shares and options worth over $42 million, corporate filings show. Mr. Kramer, who has boasted to investors that “extensive relationships across multiple agencies within the federal government” helped build the company, took home a $1.2 million cash bonus and $2 million in stock awards.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday morning, Mr. Clyburn indicated that the committee was also scrutinizing the executives’ market moves. “They all made millions in stock transactions while they seem to be hiding stuff from the public,” he said.
The Times reported last…