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Remember When The Lockdowns Were About Flattening The Curve For Hospitalizations?

(Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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The phrase “15 days to flatten the curve” was originally pitched as a solution for overflowing hospitals, and more than one year later some lockdown measures are still in place despite decreasing hospitalizations from COVID-19.

States have gradually lifted various capacity restrictions on gatherings and events as death and case totals have plummeted since the start of 2021. However, lockdowns were originally proposed to maintain capacity in hospitals for those who developed severe symptoms to the novel disease.

“If emergency rooms are overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, a state can’t move ahead,” Politico reported a few months into 2020’s lockdowns.

This sentiment wasn’t just present during the first wave. In December 2020, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom tied COVID-19 restriction guidelines to hospital capacity. (RELATED: Texas COVID Cases, Deaths Plummet After Gov. Abbott Repeals Mask Mandate)

Some restrictions are still in place in many states, but the curve has been flattened or declining for quite some time. According to the CDC, hospitalizations peaked on Jan. 5, 2021, when more than 125,000 patients were treated for COVID-19 in hospitals. The number has since consistently fallen and tethered around 33,000.

Despite the decline, some health experts remain on edge about reopening efforts. In March, the chief medical officer of Wisconsin’s Marshfield Clinic Health System, Bill Melms, said administrators were “panicked” even when COVID-19 patients only made up about 40% of their nearly 400-patient capacity. Once states like Texas and Mississippi repealed their mask mandates, Melms said he “wasn’t out of the woods yet” even with only 14 patients hospitalized in the entire system.

Cases of infections and deaths appear to be continuing a downward trend, despite ticking up in late March and early April.

Republican Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves defended his “open state” by saying, “data doesn’t play politics: Average daily cases cut in half. Hospitalizations down 421 to 244. ICU beds down 109 to 67.” (RELATED: You Can Probably Guess The State That Did The Worst During COVID-19 Pandemic)

Mortality rates in the U.S. have settled around 1.8% since January, which is the lowest of the pandemic so far. As recently as November, more than 2% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. resulted in death. Prior to that, it had peaked as high as six percent.

The decrease in mortality is correlated with increased vaccination rates. While the available COVID-19 vaccines are not believed to prevent infection 100% of the time, they have proven to be effective at preventing serious illness and death, according to the CDC. More than 133 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, and more than 86 million are fully vaccinated.

The accounts of overwhelmed hospitals have receded in the press as well. During the two major American COVID-19 surges in spring 2020 and December – January 2021, nightly news broadcasts were littered with features on scrambling health care workers and overflowing hospitals. Now, reports of such events are increasingly scarce, with more media focus drifting away from the pandemic to issues like immigration, racial unrest and infrastructure.

Some states that have yet to fully reopen, like California, are now moving the goalposts. Not only are low hospitalizations needed to get things back to normal, but vaccine supply must also be sufficient. In New York, infection rates, testing capacity and contact tracing capacity are listed alongside hospital capacity as key metrics to determine reopening timelines. (RELATED: ‘Absolutely Reckless’: Gavin Newsom Slams Texas’s Decision To Lift Mask Mandate)

There are, of course, certain hot spots where the curve has not been flattened. In Michigan, cases have gone up seven-fold, and hospitalizations and deaths have spiked accordingly. Still, America reflects a positive outlook as more and more Americans get vaccinated.