As we have entered the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a growing transatlantic divide in public mood. While the finish line appears to be in sight for the United States, where a rapid vaccine rollout and falling case numbers have sparked a wave of optimism in recent weeks, large parts of Europe are facing a third wave of COVID-19 infections. Amid the optimism, the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, rang the alarm bell on Monday, citing rising case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths as cause for concern.
"We are just almost there but not quite yet," Walensky said at a press briefing by the White House COVID-19 Response Team on Monday. "The trajectory of the pandemic in the United States looks similar to many other countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy, and France looked like just a few weeks ago. And since that time, those countries have experienced a consistent and worrying spike in cases." Walensky urged Americans to recommit to prevention measures while vaccinations proceed.
The seven-day average of new infections in the United States has climbed for six straight days now, reaching the highest level in almost a month on March 29. Meanwhile, many European countries are already in the middle of a third wave, as new variants of SARS-CoV-2, most importantly the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant, have led to quickly rising case numbers despite large parts of the continent still being in at least partial lockdown. It appears that the measures that helped contain the spread of the original virus aren’t sufficient to keep the new variants in check, while public pressure to reopen schools, childcare facilities and businesses is making it even harder for politicians to make what many experts consider the right call: tightening restrictions instead of loosening up.
What makes matters worse is the fact that the vaccine rollout across the European Union is going much slower than many had hoped. As of March 21, the EU's 27 member states have administered 13 doses per 100 people, while the U.S. stood at 37 doses per 100 inhabitants. So while Americans have reason to believe that the worst will be over by summer this year, the mood across the Atlantic is considerably gloomier as a fatigued public is facing a third wave of infections coupled with sluggish vaccination progress.