US enters strange new phase of Covid-19 pandemic

After enduring a steep, nationwide surge over the holidays — followed by a decline in cases that was just as steep and just as widespread — America has entered a strange new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How strange? Just look at the wildly uneven outbreaks unfolding right now in California, Florida and Michigan.

Nationally, the pace of vaccinations continues to accelerate, with an average of 3 million doses being administered every day. Yet the spread of variants such as B.1.1.7 — a strain that’s more contagious and deadly than earlier versions of the virus — is accelerating too. As a result, cases have started to level off or even inch up nationally, and experts are debating whether a so-called fourth wave is upon us.

It’s a race between the vaccines and the variants, they say.

But the truth is a bit more complicated — and perhaps a bit less scary. Zooming in on California, Florida and Michigan helps explain why.

These big states have some things in common. All three previously experienced large waves of infection. All three have at least partially vaccinated about a third of their residents, with California at 35 percent, Michigan at 31 percent and Florida at 31 percent, in line with the U.S. overall. And all three appear to be rife with variants; nationwide, Florida, Michigan and California currently rank No. 1, No. 2 and No. 6, respectively, in the number of B.1.1.7 cases detected to date.

Yet their COVID-19 outbreaks couldn’t be more different.

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