Last year, some experts, including Dan Diekema, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, were hopeful that the holiday weekend would mark the beginning of the end to the threat of the virus in the United States. “In retrospect, I was far too optimistic,” he said in an interview on Friday, adding that he has since stopped making predictions. “I could not imagine the tragedy that would ensue over the past year.”
The virus has continued to spread, as variants emerge that are able to sicken even those who are fully vaccinated. Another Omicron subvariant became dominant this week and known cases have climbed.
In 2020, when the U.S. was on the cusp of recording 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus in late May, officials urged Americans not to travel for the weekend. State reopenings were emerging but many parades and other large gatherings were canceled. In 2021, the known death count was nearing 600,000, but the widening availability of vaccines, along with the federal guidance that it was safe for fully vaccinated people to take their masks off in most indoor settings, inspired public gatherings to return. Some concerns then shifted to sold-out hotel rooms, lifeguard shortages and a scarcity of chlorine tablets for backyard pools.
This year, Memorial Day observations are not being scrapped nationwide. In recent weeks, confirmed daily U.S. cases have been rising and are believed to be undercounted. While new deaths are relatively low, the total number of known U.S. Covid deaths recently surpassed one million.
Health officials in the Biden administration continue to warn of risks especially to more vulnerable people, but federal health guidance has shifted to focus on the stress to health care systems. Last month, a federal judge struck down a mask mandate on public transport and the country’s largest airlines promptly followed suit, ending a mask requirement after nearly two years of the practice.