(CNN) — Americans have seen a wave of reopens and the easing of restrictions as more people get vaccinated, but experts are warning people not to become complacent as the return to normalcy continues.
And if some communities continue to see high levels of COVID-19 infections, children under the age of 12 in those areas will likely still have to wear masks next school year, Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC Nightly News.
The CDC considers a county to have “high” transmission if there have been 100 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents or a test positivity rate of 10% or more in the past seven days.
So far, more than half the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, and 12 states have reached President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of Americans receiving at least one dose by July 4.
As vaccinations increased, cases of the virus have dropped. Joint forecasts released Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) project say that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths will likely continue to decline over the next four weeks.
Current vaccination rates have started to decline, and are now less than a third of the peak rate of about 3.3 million per day in April. But the July 4 goal remains realistic: that is, if people don’t become complacent, Fauci told NBC News.
CNN medical analyst Leana Wen cautioned that after Memorial Day weekend, the United States is still two weeks away from seeing the results of its first stress test, given that nearly half the country remains unvaccinated.
Even if cases stabilize or decline from their current rate of decline, Wen said he is concerned that some communities remain vulnerable.
“There are parts of the country with very low vaccination rates,” he said. “I am really concerned that unvaccinated people in those areas are passing the coronavirus to each other.”
Fauci also said he is concerned about communities that are experiencing high levels of spread. He told NBC News that it is too early to lift mask-wearing mandates in those areas.
“If the mask use is lifted, you will end up in danger of going back to spikes,” he said.
New York City offers vaccines in schools
Now that vaccines are available for children up to 12 years old, New York City will begin offering vaccines at school for children ages 12 to 17, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.
The program will begin at four schools in the Bronx on Friday and will eventually expand to all five boroughs in the coming weeks. The city is partnering with UFT, a union that represents the majority of teachers in the New York City public school system, to vaccinate as many children as possible before the end of the school year later this year. month, said de Blasio.
Currently, about 118,000 New York City children ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated, representing about 23% of the city’s children in that age range, de Blasio said.
After more than a year of learning remotely, many people are eager to make schools a safe place for their students to return.
Studies are underway in the hope that a vaccine will be available for children as young as 6 months. These trials can still take months to ensure that the vaccines are safe and effective.
More vaccination is an uphill battle
Significant mitigation strategies may be needed in areas where there is large-scale community transmission, the CDC said, including in communal settings, such as schools and workplaces.
In addition to masks and social distancing, widespread vaccination is key to reducing transmission, experts have said.
But after a quick wave of anxious participants, the rest are those who have often received false information about their security or who do not have access.
As a result, the road to vaccinating the rest of the population may be an uphill battle from now on, Dr. Vivek Murthy, America’s Chief Health Officer, said Wednesday, but “we will not give up.”
“Because we were so successful in the beginning, we are now getting to the part of the campaign that is more difficult,” said Murthy. “We have to look further, if you want: to convince more people, get the information right, increase access even more.”
Early success is helpful in keeping large swaths of the nation protected, but reaching levels that will stop community spread will require a change in strategy, Murthy said.
“This is a multi-pronged campaign that recognizes that people have different reasons why they are not getting vaccinated at this time, but we have to work on all three fronts: mobilization, education and improving access,” Murthy said. “This is how we are going to vaccinate the nation.”
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Ben Tinker, Jacqueline Howard, Amanda Watts, and Laura Ly contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism