The US saw the largest single-year decline in life expectancy in 2020 since World War II, a CDC report found

us 500,000 covid-19 deaths
El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office staff roll bodies in bags labeled “COVID” from refrigerated trailers into the morgue office on November 23, 2020.

  • US life expectancy fell by a year and a half in 2020, largely due to the pandemic, the CDC found.
  • The average life expectancy is now around 77 years, down from nearly 79 years in 2019.
  • Researchers say it may take a few years for life expectancy to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Average life expectancy in the US plummeted by a year and a half in 2020 – the largest single-year decline since World War II, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life expectancy went from nearly 79 years in 2019 to just over 77 years in 2020, the report found.

For Black and Hispanic Americans, that decline was even more pronounced: around three years.

The average Black American had a life expectancy of nearly 75 years in 2019, but less than than 72 years in 2020. And the average Hispanic American had a life expectancy of nearly 82 years in 2019, but less than 79 years in 2020.

The last time Black Americans saw such a sharp decline in life expectancy was during the Great Depression. Last year also marked the largest single-year decline in life expectancy among Hispanic Americans, though the CDC just started tracking life expectancy among this group in 2006.

Dramatic drop-offs in life expectancy are “highly unusual” in modern US history, Elizabeth Arias, the report’s lead author, told Insider.

“Human mortality, in developed countries especially, is pretty stable and constant,” Arias said. “It changes very little from year to year.”

But the pandemic has lowered the average life expectancy to levels last reported in the early 2000s. Black Americans now have the same life expectancy that they did in the year 2000, as shown in the chart below.

During the first half of 2020, Black Americans had the sharpest decline in life expectancy of any racial group. By the end of the year, however, Hispanic Americans showed a more significant drop-off.

The CDC researchers found that 68% of all COVID-19 deaths among the Hispanic population occurred during the second half of 2020, whereas COVID-19 deaths among Black Americans were fairly evenly distributed across the year.

Arias said she’s not sure why that is yet, but it could have something to do with where the majority of these populations are located.

“We know that the Hispanic population tends to be concentrated in various states, so they’re not distributed throughout the country,” she said.

States with high shares of Hispanic residents – including California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona – saw particularly devastating surges of COVID-19 cases last winter.

COVID-19 also represented a higher share of deaths among Hispanic Americans than among Black or white Americans: 90% of the decline in life expectancy among the Hispanic population was due to COVID-19, compared with 68% of the decline among white Americans and 59% of the decline among Black Americans.

Life expectancy could take a few years to bounce back

coronavirus covid-19 death funeral burial coffin casket mourners
Aracely Iraheta touches the casket of her husband, Jose Agustin Iraheta, in Malden, Massachusetts in May 2020. Iraheta died from COVID-19.

Life expectancy isn’t an indicator of when people will die – rather, it’s a marker of the general health of the population. It represents the average number of years a person might live if they were to experience the current death rate throughout their entire life.

COVID-19 deaths were responsible for roughly 74% of the life expectancy decline in 2020, the CDC found. As these deaths taper off, life expectancy in the US could start to bounce back – but researchers expect that process to take a few years.

“We won’t see life expectancy go back to what it was in 2019 this year,” Arias said. “It might increase a little bit if we stay below the number of deaths that we saw in 2020. It may go down even further if – for example – because of the Delta variant we have significantly more deaths before the end of the year.”

The CDC has already reported more than 230,000 COVID-19 deaths in 2021, Arias said, compared with around 375,000 COVID-19 deaths in 2020.

“Even if we were to able to eradicate COVID deaths completely, we will have the indirect effects of the pandemic present themselves in increases in other causes of death,” she added.

In 2020, for instance, deaths from drug overdoses rose nearly 30% compared with the year prior – from around 71,000 to 93,000. Arias said it’s possible that many of these deaths could also be linked to social or economic hardships from the pandemic.

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A 22% surge in US coronavirus deaths is hitting unvaccinated people hardest. Experts worry about the long-term effects for vaccinated people, too.

us 500,000 covid-19 deaths
El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office staff roll bodies in bags labeled “COVID” from refrigerated trailers into the morgue office on November 23.

  • The US’s daily coronavirus deaths surged 22% in the past week – mostly among unvaccinated Americans.
  • Disease experts worry about breakthrough cases in older people or those who are immunocompromised.
  • Increased transmission could also allow the virus to mutate into a more dangerous strain.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US is far removed from the deadliest point in its coronavirus outbreak: The country reported more than 3,000 daily coronavirus deaths in January, compared with less than 275 daily deaths, on average, in the past week.

But average daily deaths surged 22% in the past seven days, following a record low of 30 deaths on July 11. In the past two weeks, average daily deaths rose 33%.

The vast majority these deaths are among unvaccinated Americans: Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC earlier this month that unvaccinated people represented more than 99% of recent coronavirus deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported Friday that more than 97% of people entering hospitals with symptomatic COVID-19 hadn’t received shots.

The US is now dealing with a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a press briefing.

“We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk, and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well,” Walensky said.

But disease experts worry that allowing the virus to spread among unvaccinated people could give it more opportunities to mutate. That could pose a long-term risk for vaccinated people, too. Already, the Delta variant – now the dominant strain in the US – appears to be more transmissible than any other version of the virus detected so far.

“The worst-case scenario is if Delta mutates into something completely different, a completely different animal, and then our current vaccines are even less effective or ineffective,” Vivek Cherian, an internal-medicine physician in Baltimore, told Insider last month.

Experts also worry that increased transmission could result in more severe breakthrough infections – cases of COVID-19 diagnosed at least two weeks after someone is fully vaccinated – among older people or those who are immunocompromised, since vaccines may already be less effective among these groups.

People over 65 represent about 75% of breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death, according to the CDC.

The UK offers insight into what to expect in the US

london UK reopening
Outdoor dining in Soho, London, on April 18.

Disease experts worry that the US could soon follow in the footsteps of the UK, where average deaths have more than doubled in the past two weeks, from 17 to 40 a day. The UK’s average hospitalizations have also increased about 60% during that time, from about 380 to 615 a day.

That’s despite the fact that nearly 70% of UK residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

In the US, about 44% of the population remains unvaccinated. (That includes about 48 million children under age 12, for whom vaccines haven’t been authorized yet.)

The country is now administering as many daily vaccine doses as it was in late December, when vaccines were available only to healthcare workers and residents of long-term-care facilities. Just 384,000 daily doses were given out on average over the past week.

Some Americans, particularly in rural counties, may still struggle to access shots, while others can’t afford to take time off work to get vaccinated. But, for the most part, widespread vaccine hesitancy has slowed down vaccination rates.

About 18% of adults surveyed in a recent YouGov poll said they didn’t plan to get vaccinated, while 11% said they were unsure. These rates were significantly higher among Republicans and people in the Midwest and South.

Most vaccine-hesitant people in the survey said they were worried about side effects from coronavirus shots – though studies have shown that vaccine side effects are generally mild and fleeting. The vast majority of them also said they believed that the threat of the virus was exaggerated for political reasons.

Lifting mask and social-distancing mandates could delay herd immunity

US reopening concert phone picture Instagram
A couple at Madison Square Garden in New York City on June 20.

Despite lagging vaccination rates, most US states have lifted mask and social-distancing mandates. In states such as Delaware, Florida, Missouri, and South Carolina, masks are recommended but not required for unvaccinated people.

Some disease experts said removing these restrictions too soon could send the wrong message about the state of the pandemic.

“The concern is if you’re on the fence, and then you go outside and you see, ‘Hey, things are back to normal,’ that may decrease the chance of you wanting to even get vaccinated,” Cherian said.

For now, experts are hopeful that the US can still vaccinate at least 70 to 85% of its population – a threshold that may allow the country to reach herd immunity. But a new variant that evades protection from vaccines or prior infection could push that goal even further from view, so public-health officials remain determined to vaccinate more Americans as quickly as possible.

“If you get to that situation, then you essentially get us back to a level” that we were in before March 2020, Cherian said, adding: “That’s just not a place that you want to be.”

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1,000 US counties still have vaccination rates below 30% – particularly in the Southeast and Midwest, CDC says

covid vaccine
Maryland National Guard Specialist James Truong administers a Moderna coronavirus vaccine in Wheaton, Maryland, May 21, 2021.

  • 1,000 US counties have vaccination rates below 30%, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday.
  • Coronavirus transmission will likely increase in these areas as the Delta variant keeps spreading.
  • But the US is struggling to put shots in arms: Vaccination rates fell 85% in the last three months.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Nearly half the US population is fully vaccinated, but rates still vary widely from state to state – and even more widely county by county.

Around 1,000 US counties currently have vaccination rates below 30%, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a White House press briefing on Thursday.

“These communities, primarily in the Southeast and Midwest, are our most vulnerable,” Walensky said. “In some of these areas, we are already seeing increasing rates of disease. As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities unless we can vaccinate more people now.”

Delta is the most transmissible coronavirus variant to date, and may be deadlier than its predecessors, so disease experts are particularly concerned about its spread among unvaccinated communities.

An analysis from Public Health England found that Delta was associated with a 60% increased risk of household transmission compared with the Alpha variant discovered in the UK, though more recent estimates suggest the difference is closer to 40%. The Alpha variant is already about 50% more transmissible than the original strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

covid delta variant
A mobile COVID-19 vaccination center in Bolton, England, on June 9, 2021.

Researchers in Scotland also found that getting infected with the Delta variant doubled the risk of hospital admission relative to Alpha. (Previous studies have suggested that the Alpha variant may be 30 to 70% deadlier than the original strain.)

Vaccines, of course, significantly lower that risk for both variants. The Associated Press recently reported that around 99% of COVID-19 deaths in May were among unvaccinated people, based on government data.

But the US has struggled recently to convince more Americans to get vaccinated, even with incentives like cash prizes, gift cards, and tickets to sports games. Vaccination rates have fallen 85% in the last three months. As of Wednesday, the US was administering less than 430,000 daily doses, on average, compared to a peak of more than 3 million daily doses in April. The nation will likely fall shy of its goal to vaccinate 70% of adults with at least one dose by July 4 – 67% of adults have gotten at least one shot so far.

Meanwhile, Delta is expected to become the dominant strain in the US in a matter of weeks. It currently represents around 25% of the country’s reported cases, Walensky said. In some regions, she added, Delta already represents nearly half of new cases.

The spread of Delta has corresponded to a roughly 10% increase in weekly average of new coronavirus cases in the US. In the last two weeks, 19 states have seen their average daily cases rise. Missouri – where roughly four dozen counties have vaccination rates below 30% – has seen cases increase 55% during that time. In Arkansas – where more than 20 counties have vaccination rates below 30% – cases have risen 63%.

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A map shows how many people had undiagnosed COVID-19 in the first 6 months of the pandemic, across 7 regions of the US

Biking covid new york
A bike lane in New York City.

  • During the first six months of the pandemic, 16.8 million coronavirus cases went undiagnosed in the US.
  • That’s according to a report that compares the prevalence of coronavirus antibodies in various regions.
  • The Mid-Atlantic saw the most undiagnosed cases – nearly 9 out of every 100 people – by July 2020.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On paper, the US’s summer and winter coronavirus surges look far more devastating than the first one in the spring of 2020.

But a new report published in the journal Science Translational Medicine offers the most robust look yet at how widespread the virus actually was during that initial wave. The results show that for every diagnosed case of COVID-19 in the US, nearly five others went undiagnosed during the first six months of the pandemic.

That amounts to roughly 16.8 million undiagnosed cases by mid-July 2020 – in addition to the 3 million cases officially reported during that time.

Kaitlyn Sadtler, an investigator at the National Institutes of Health who worked on the study, told Insider that her team spent several months making sure the figure was right.

“It was shocking to an extent of, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of people,’ but at the same time, we knew that there was this big black box out there – the unknown,” she said.

The estimates are based on a collection of blood samples, which the researchers gathered from around 9,000 people across the US from April 1 to August 4, 2020. None of the individuals sampled had ever been diagnosed with COVID-19, but nearly 5% of the samples came back positive for coronavirus antibodies. The researchers determined that these people had gotten undiagnosed infections.

Some regions were hit harder than others, they found. The Mid-Atlantic saw the highest prevalence of COVID-19 cases: Nearly 9 out of every 100 people in the region had an undiagnosed infection, according to the report.

The map below shows how that compares to other regions across the country.

regional covid prevalence

Nearly 7% of people in the Northeast had an undiagnosed infection, compared with less than 2% in the West and Midwest, 3% in the South and Central US, and 4.5% in the Southwest.

Undiagnosed cases were most commonly found among Black Americans: Around 14% of the samples from the group came back positive for coronavirus antibodies. Meanwhile, around 2% of samples from white and Asian American people came back positive – the lowest of any racial group.

Undiagnosed infections were also more common among people ages 18 to 44 than among older age groups – 6% of those samples tested positive for antibodies.

If more young people got COVID-19 early in the pandemic than we thought, it could mean the US is closer to herd immunity than experts were estimating. (Vaccination rates are still relatively low among young Americans – just 38% of people ages 18 to 29 have gotten at least one dose compared to 80% of those ages 65 and older.)

However, Sadtler said people should assume they’re still vulnerable to infection until they’ve gotten a vaccine.

“It definitely doesn’t mean that younger folks should rely on thinking they might have had an infection,” Sadtler said. “Everybody should go out and get vaccinated.”

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The US reportedly spied on Angela Merkel and other top European politicians with Denmark’s help

Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

  • Denmark reportedly helped the US access the calls and texts of senior European officials, including Angela Merkel.
  • Denmark held an internal investigation into its partnership with the NSA between 2012 and 2014.
  • The country’s public broadcaster reported the findings of the investigation, citing nine unnamed sources.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit helped the US spy on European officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to a report by Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) on Sunday.

In 2015, the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE) conducted an internal investigation – code-named “Operation Dunhammer” – into its partnership with the US National Security Agency (NSA), according to the report.

The investigation found that the NSA used Danish information cables to spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France, and Germany between 2012 to 2014, according to DR’s report. The report cited nine unnamed sources with classified information from FE.

The NSA accessed calls, texts, and chat messages to and from officials’ telephones, the sources told DR.

In addition to Merkel, the NSA spied on former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbr├╝ck, according to the DR report.

The FE and the NSA didn’t provide comment on the DR report.

A spokesperson for the German chancellery told Reuters it only became aware of the NSA spying allegations when journalists asked them about the report, and declined to comment further.

Leaks by former NSA employee Edward Snowden alleged that the NSA tapped Merkel’s phone and spied on other countries. Snowden tweeted on Sunday that President Joe Biden was “deeply involved in this scandal the first time around” as he was vice-President when the reported spying took place.

Insider contacted the White House and the NSA for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

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Biden wants to make moving to the US from abroad easier and cheaper by revamping the immigration system, according to a new report

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden wants to make it easier for foreigners to move to the US, according to a document seen by The New York Times.
  • New policies could help refugees, asylum-seekers, high-skilled workers, and other groups move to the US, The Times reported.
  • Biden wants to make immigration forms simpler and the whole process cheaper, per the report.

President Joe Biden wants to make moving to the US easier and cheaper, The New York Times reported on Monday.

The Biden administration plans to rebuild and expand the legal-immigration system in the US, according to a 46-page government document seen by the Times titled “D.H.S. Plan to Restore Trust in Our Legal Immigration System.” The document outlined plans to undo efforts by former President Donald Trump to make immigration more difficult, expensive, and slower, The Times reported.

Policies from the document would help more people move to the US, including refugees, asylum-seekers, trafficking victims, high-skilled workers, families of Americans living abroad, and Native Americans born in Canada, The Times reported.

The Biden administration plans to revamp various programs in the immigration system, including the H-1B Visa program for highly-skilled workers and the U-Visa program, which offers citizenship to undocumented immigrants if they cooperate with law enforcement, the document said, per The Times.

The document proposes simpler immigration forms that can be filed online, The Times reported. People will go through fewer security checks and the US will make fewer requests for evidence from foreigners under the proposals, The Times reported.

Read more: Biden’s immigration messaging is fine – the problem is his policies don’t back up his ‘don’t come’ message

Potential immigrants will have a better chance at securing work visas or joining families who live in the US, the document said, per The Times.

They may also pay less or get waivers to lower barriers to immigration, the document showed, per the Times.

More security checks on immigrants during the Trump era, along with less travel during the pandemic, has meant fewer foreigners coming into the US. As a result, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, financed by immigrants’ fees, received less money, the Times said. Restoring the agency is central to Biden’s effort to develop legal immigration, the document said, per the Times.

“There are significant changes that need to be made to really open up all avenues of legal immigration,” Felicia Escobar Carrillo, chief of staff at Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the Times. “In the same way that [the Trump administration] took a broad-stroke approach to closing off avenues, I think we want to take a broad approach toward opening up the legal avenues that have always been available but that they tried to put roadblocks up on.”

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Sen. Bernie Sanders: USA should lead the world in bringing about peace, ‘not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza’

Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders said the Derek Chauvin verdict was “accountability,” but not true justice.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the United States should take an “even-handed” approach to the tensions between Isreal and Palestine.

“I think the United States has got to develop an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Sanders said on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday. “We have to be pro-Israel, but we have to be pro-Palestinian. And I hope and believe the president understands that.”

“I was delighted to see that he is moving forward to try to rebuild with the international community…rebuild Gaza after all of that destruction,” he added.

Earlier this week, Isreal and Palestinian militant group Hamas, designed as a terrorist by the US, agreed to a cease-fire on Thursday. According to France 24, more than 240 Palestinians, including 66 children and about 12 Israeli’s, died due to the violence. In a statement, President Joe Biden lauded the agreement.

Biden said that his administration would coordinate with the Palestinian Authority to send aid to the Gaza Strip for its reconstruction following Israeli airstrikes, as Insider’s Azmi Haroun reported.

During the interview, host John Dickerson asked Sanders about how to implement an “even-handed” approach when dealing with “terrorists who wanted to destroy Israel.”

“You have a very difficult situation. You have Hamas – a terrorist group. You have a right-wing Israeli government, and the situation is getting worse,” Sanders responded. “And all I’m saying is that the United States of America has got to be leading the world in bringing people together, not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza.”

Sanders continued:” “This last series of attacks killed 64 children and destroyed a large part of the infrastructure of Gaza in a community that has already been one of the most uninhabitable territories in the world.”

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Biden’s income-tax hike could hit some people earning less than $400,000 after all

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden holds the first news conference of his presidency at the White House on March 25, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden has repeatedly promised that he won’t raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 annually.
  • But people in married couples each earning less than $400,000 may have to pay more under Biden’s tax changes, Axios reported.
  • A White House official said Biden would increase the income-tax rate for families earning more than $509,300.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Some Americans earning less than $400,000 will have to pay higher tax rates under President Joe Biden’s economic plan, a White House official told Axios on Wednesday.

In May 2020, Biden said that “nobody making under $400,000 would have their taxes raised” during his administration. But the White House official said people in married couples earning less than $400,000, filing jointly, may have to pay higher taxes.

The President plans to increase the income-tax rate from 37% to 39.6% for families earning more than $509,300, and for individuals above $452,700, the official said.

This means that a married couple each earning more than $255,000 would have to pay the higher tax rate on part of their income, because their combined income exceeds $509,300.

Biden is raising taxes on the very wealthy to pay for his $1.8 trillion spending plan to extend cash payments for parents, set up universal pre-K, and free community college.

Read more: Bernie Sanders and other liberals share why they aren’t ready to anoint Biden the next FDR just yet

“Consistent with the president’s campaign proposal, we are proposing to reverse the tax cut for the top bracket by returning that top tax bracket to what it would’ve been under pre-2017 law,” the White House official told Axios. “That applies to less than 1% of Americans – the very top earners.”

“In 2022, those pre-2017 brackets are expected to be about $452,700 in taxable income for a single individual and $509,300 in taxable income for a married couple,” they said.

Biden has repeatedly promised that he would raise taxes on the wealthy, but not on people earning less than $400,000 annually. “Nobody making under $400,000 would have their taxes raised. Period, bingo,” Biden said in an interview on CNBC in May 2020.

In March 2021, in a speech unveiling the American Jobs Plan, he said “no one, let me say it again, no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up, period.”

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The US and UK lead the world’s coronavirus vaccinations – but they may struggle to reach herd immunity if they reopen too soon

london drinks
People in England flock back to pubs and restaurants as lockdown restrictions were eased on April 12, 2021.

  • The US and UK are relaxing restrictions as their vaccinations continue to ramp up.
  • But scientists worry the countries are developing a false sense of security.
  • More contagious variants and vaccine skepticism could still pose a barrier to herd immunity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Countries that have vaccinated more than a third of their populations are now taking huge leaps toward normal life.

The UK plans to remove all social distancing restrictions by June 21 now that nearly half its population has received shots. On April 30, the nation will experiment with its first nightclub opening in more than a year: A Liverpool warehouse is set to host 3,000 club-goers who test negative for the virus.

US vaccinations trail closely behind – around 40% of the country has received at least one vaccine dose so far. For the most part, businesses are already open in all 50 states, and 13 states have recently lifted their mask mandates.

To some extent, rolling back restrictions is a natural test of whether vaccines prevent coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths outside clinical trials. But scientists worry that countries with large vaccine rollouts could be lulled into a false sense of security.

“The worst is probably behind us, but I don’t want to suggest that let’s now sit back, relax, and enjoy life, and it’s all going to be fine,” David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Insider. “We do still need to maintain some level of vigilance because if the virus has taught us one thing, it’s that it’s difficult to predict the future.”

Two factors, in particular, could hinder progress in the US and UK: the emergence of more contagious variants and vaccine skepticism.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that the US could see an additional 60,000 deaths by August 1 – assuming variants continue to spread and vaccinated people start to behave normally, forgoing masks and social distancing. Under this “worst-case scenario,” daily coronavirus cases could also plateau over the next four months.

A March 30 model from Imperial College London similarly estimates that the UK could see an additional 15,700 deaths by June if the country proceeds with its reopening plan.

The US and UK probably haven’t reached herd immunity yet

vaccine healthcare workers us
A dentist receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Anaheim on January 8, 2020.

It’s not clear exactly what share of a nation’s population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity – the threshold beyond which the virus can’t pass easily from person to person – but experts generally estimate that it’s at least 70%.

Only one large country, Israel, is probably near that goal. Around 62% of Israel’s population has been vaccinated so far.

“It would be reasonable to say Israel right now has a very high level of population protection, probably not far from herd immunity,” Eyal Leshem, director at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, told Insider.

Already, Israel’s cases have fallen 94% since it started vaccinating people in December – even as the country lifted lockdown restrictions. As of last Sunday, people in Israel don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore and all primary school students can return to in-person learning.

“Despite mass gatherings, parties, meetings, there’s no increasing cases,” Leshem said.

But scientists warn that the US and UK likely haven’t crossed the herd immunity threshold yet.

While daily coronavirus cases are falling in the UK and have remained relatively flat in the US, experts worry that rolling back restrictions could reverse some of these gains.

“Part of the reason that we’re not seeing a spike is still that people are not just going back to the way things were before,” Dowdy said. “And if we remove that effect, we will start to see cases go back up right now.”

In the US, average daily cases are still comparable to those recorded last summer.

“We’re having between 60,000 and 70,000 new infections per day and it would really, I think, not be prudent at all to declare victory prematurely and pull back,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

New variants may pose a continued threat

variant lab
Researchers sequence coronavirus samples at the microbiology laboratory of the University Hospital of Badajoz in Spain on April 15, 2021.

Many scientists caution against lifting mask or social distancing guidelines before nations understand the full threat of coronavirus variants.

In Chile, for instance, 40% of the population has been vaccinated, but average daily coronavirus cases there have more than doubled in the last two months. Scientists attribute this surge, in part, to the spread of P.1 – a variant first discovered in Brazil that seems to partially evade immunity from vaccines or previous infectious.

Studies show that vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson protect people from B.1.1.7 – now the dominant strain in the US – but are less effective against P.1 and B.1.351 (a variant first identified in South Africa). AstraZeneca’s vaccine – which has been authorized in more than 130 countries, including the UK – seems to protect people from B.1.1.7 and P.1, but is less effective against B.1.351.

Scientists have also spotted variants in California that appear to be more transmissible than the virus’ original strain and could potentially resist antibodies from vaccines, according to a new study.

More contagious variants could make herd immunity a moving target, Rahul Subramanian, a data scientist at the University of Chicago, told Insider.

“Let’s say we reach herd immunity next year – it may need to be a constant battle,” he said. “You have to keep maintaining herd immunity in the population by continuously getting people vaccinated.”

Vaccine skepticism could allow coronavirus infections to lurk

anti-vaxx protest
A protest against masks, vaccines, and vaccine passports outside the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia on March 13, 2021.

The US is currently vaccinating around 3 million people per day, on average. Fauci has said the nation will need to keep up that pace to prevent another surge.

But maintaining the current rate of vaccinations is going to be a challenge, Dowdy added.

“The people who haven’t been vaccinated by now generally are, in many cases, people who don’t want to be vaccinated or have some concerns about being vaccinated,” he said.

A recent poll from Monmouth University found that 1 in 5 Americans still aren’t willing to get a coronavirus vaccine. That’s compared to three-quarters of people in the UK who say they’re “very likely” to get vaccinated, according to a February Oxford University survey.

If unvaccinated people don’t social distance or wear masks, the nations could ultimately struggle to prevent future outbreaks.

“You can vaccinate 50% of the population, but if it’s the wrong 50% – the 50% who are at the lowest risk of getting COVID to start with – then it doesn’t mean that you magically then cross a threshold,” Dowdy said. “The key is to get those numbers high enough so that even in the populations that are at highest risk of getting infection, you’re having enough vaccination to make a difference.”

For now, at least half the people in the US and UK still haven’t had their shots. And it could be several months, at the earliest, before coronavirus vaccines are authorized for children – which make up roughly 20% of the populations in the UK and US.

Until then, scientists said, it’s important to maintain mask and social distancing guidelines.

“Getting people vaccinated is a gradual process,” Dowdy said, “so we need to also make reopening a gradual process, too.”

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Store owners in Minneapolis are boarding up ahead of the Derek Chauvin murder-trial verdict, fearing potential unrest

george floyd derek chauvin trial
Law enforcement stands guard as crews remove artwork from temporary fencing outside the Hennepin County Government Center on April 2, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • Businesses in Minneapolis are preparing for the Derek Chauvin murder-trial verdict.
  • Fearing unrest, some restaurant and store owners are boarding up their premises.
  • An owner of a dry cleaners told the New York Times he’d cleared out his store.
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Stores and restaurants in Minneapolis are preparing for potential unrest as they await the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial.

Chauvin, a 45-year-old former police officer, is accused of killing George Floyd in May 2020. Floyd died after Chauvin kneeled on his body for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Chauvin has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

The jury heard closing arguments of the trial on Monday. The verdict could arrive this week.

Floyd’s death triggered months-long protests over racism and police brutality in the US and worldwide. Some stores, including in Minneapolis, were damaged or looted, and now some business owners in the city are preempting possible unrest after the Chauvin verdict by boarding up or emptying their stores.

The Wall Street Journal reported that some businesses, including a Target, were boarded up on downtown’s Nicollet Mall. The New York Times also reported that phone stores, furniture shops, restaurants including Quruxlow and Hook Fish & Chicken, and Mercado Central, a Latino market in the city, had been boarded up.

An NPR reporter tweeted on Wednesday that Haskell’s wine shop was also boarded up.

Samir Patel, owner of dry-cleaning shop Elite Cleaners, told the Times on Monday that he’d moved customers’ clothes to his home. He hadn’t boarded up the shop, he said.

“We don’t know what will happen,” he added.

Read more: Derek Chauvin’s trial is testing the stress levels of Black Americans. Here’s what leaders and allies can do to help.

Patel said his shop suffered half a million dollars in damage in the civil unrest following Floyd’s death. He had to exhaust his savings and retirement accounts to reopen the business, he said. The city looked like “a war zone” at the time, he added.

From Wednesday, schools in Minneapolis will switch to remote learning, and razor wire has been wrapped around police buildings. National Guard troops are already present in some areas of downtown Minneapolis.

Insider has reached out to other businesses and retailers in Minneapolis to see how they’re preparing.

Are you a business owner in Minneapolis? Get in touch with this reporter via Twitter, or email kduffy@insider.com.

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