States are racing to vaccinate as many people as possible as the United States’ coronavirus infection curve continues its plateau for a third week at more than 55,000 new cases per day, a level that health experts warn could rapidly escalate into a new wave.
That prospect adds further urgency to vaccination efforts, even as some states appear confident that their inoculation levels justify loosening restrictions.
At least 31 states have pledged to make vaccines universally available to their adult populations by mid-April, and many more have announced plans to expand eligibility on or before May 1, a goal set by President Biden. Alaska, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia have already made all adults eligible to receive shots, and some local jurisdictions have also begun vaccinating all adults.
The expansion comes at a critical juncture in the pandemic, with 25 states reporting persistently high infections, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, there has been a daily average of 58,579 new cases, about the same as the average two weeks earlier.
The number of deaths continue to trend downward, averaging about 1,000 a day, down from more than 2,000 each day a month ago. But eight states are seeing rising deaths: Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah and West Virginia.
Mr. Biden, who initially promised to have “100 million shots in the arms” of Americans by his 100th day in office, said on Thursday at his first news conference in office that the goal had been met 58 days in and that he was doubling the target. The nation is on track to meet that new mark: 200 million shots by April 30.
As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 130 million shots had been administered since vaccinations began on Dec. 14, and that 14 percent of the American population was fully vaccinated.
The United States is averaging about 2.5 million vaccine doses a day. If that pace continues, about half of the nation’s population will be at least partly vaccinated by mid-May. But vaccine hesitancy may slow the process, according to Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.
In an interview on Fox News on Thursday, Mr. Collins said he worried not that vaccine supplies would run short, but rather that the country’s approach to herd immunity could be dampened by people who “will basically say, ‘No, not for me.’”
“That could basically cause this pandemic to go on much longer than it needs to,” he said.
Thursday brought a slew of vaccine eligibility adjustments. California will open up vaccine eligibility on Thursday to any resident 50 or older and will expand that to residents 16 or older on April 15, state officials said, citing increasing supplies of doses from the federal government. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said that any state resident 40 or older would be eligible starting on Monday, and that the minimum age would drop to 18 on April 5.
In Connecticut, which is among the most-vaccinated states in the country, Gov. Ned Lamont said that all residents 16 and above would be eligible beginning on Thursday. New Hampshire will make shots available to all residents 16 and older starting on April 2, and North Carolina on April 7. In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee said the state was on track to make vaccines available to all residents over 16 by April 19.
Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky said the state would open vaccinations to those 40 and older starting on Monday, adding that a mask mandate would stay in place for at least another 30 days. And in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz is expected to announce on Friday that all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible starting on Tuesday.
Hot spots are scattered.
In Michigan, new cases and hospitalizations are rapidly rising. There has been an average of 3,719 cases per day over the past week, an increase of 121 percent from the average two weeks earlier. Michigan is reporting more new cases each day relative to the size of its population than any state except New Jersey, which has seen an increase of 25 percent from the average two weeks earlier.
And in Massachusetts, which is set to open vaccines to adults 16 and above on April 19, coronavirus cases have increased 28 percent from the average two weeks earlier. Dr. Michael Hirsh, the medical director of Worcester, warned that the return of spring breakers as well as Passover and Easter could be “a setup for even a bigger surge.”