Still, Mitch noted, “compare the country to where we were in January, it’s hands-down way better.”

What happens next? Cases could continue to rise in the coming weeks, Apoorva says. Between vaccinations and prior infections, half the country may have some form of immunity to the virus, according to Jha: “That still leaves a lot of vulnerable people who can get infected.”

But the success of the country’s ongoing vaccination drive should keep deaths and hospitalizations well below their January peaks. Many of the people at the greatest risk of severe illness have already been inoculated, which means new cases are likely to be concentrated among younger and healthier people.

And there are many reasons to expect the state of the pandemic to improve as summer approaches. More and more Americans will get vaccinated. The arrival of warmer weather will let more people spend time outside, where the virus spreads less easily. And cities and states could blunt some new cases by keeping indoor mask mandates.

Caution in the immediate term and hope in the longer term can make for difficult public health messaging. President Biden walked that line this week, celebrating expanded vaccine access while warning that “reckless behavior” could lead to more infections.

The solution, Jha believes, is honesty. “There’s been this debate throughout the whole pandemic: Should we be more optimistic or should we be more pessimistic? My personal strategy has been to just be honest with people,” he says. “Be honest with people and give it to them straight. I think most people can handle it.”

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