Covid circumstances are dropping beneath 100,000 per day within the US because the nation faces colder climate
Will Farrell, 38, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) positive patient, speaks with resident physician Ian Nora in his room at the COVID infirmary at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., September 21, 2021.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
The average daily Covid cases in the US fell below 100,000 on Thursday as the pandemic shows further signs of weakening and more than 56% of the population are fully immunized against the virus – a trend very different from the record-breaking surge the country is on last autumn was approaching.
Armed with vaccines this fall, cases have steadily declined since the country’s most recent high of about 172,500 average daily infections on Sept. 13, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. It’s the first time since early August that daily cases have dropped below 100,000, the data shows, but health experts urge caution despite the positive signs they see in the numbers.
“I think right now it looks like we’re going to see a relatively tough case with continued transmission of Covid in our communities,” said Dr. Barbara Taylor, Assistant Dean and Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. She said the infection rates still high mean the land is not out of the woods yet, although it is encouraging that cases are not rising again. “But I hesitate to say that we know all about what it’s going to be like.”
While infections were less than half of today’s levels around this time last year, they rose rapidly and eventually hit a pandemic high of more than 250,000 a day after the Christmas season on January 11th. The death toll followed suit, eventually peaking at around 3,400 per day in early 2021.
Along with the decline in cases, there are encouraging signs of hospitalizations and deaths in the United States. About 69,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with Covid, up from nearly 104,000 as of September 1, according to the Department of Health and Social Affairs. The average daily death toll is currently around 1,680 last week, 18% less than its most recent high of around 2,050 a day on September 22nd.
While the decline in deaths is reassuring, the daily death toll in the US is still “significant and tragic,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, emergency doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“We have become so stunned by the numbers that even something like 500 deaths a day for the coming winter could be portrayed as some kind of victory by some just because it’s not 3,000 or more. How sad is that? ”Said Faust, who is also a lecturer at Harvard Medical School.
Cases, deaths and hospital admissions are all higher now than they were a year ago and in the summer before the Delta variant caught on across the country. The average number of cases in June was 11,400 per day.
The biggest difference in 2021, of course, is the advent of Covid vaccines. Almost two-thirds of the US population have received at least one dose of vaccine and 56.2% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You cannot ignore the tremendous individual and population protection that vaccines have offered the United States,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease doctor and professor at the University of Toronto.
Still, the latest outbreak triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant has risen, despite US officials vaccinating 216 million Americans with at least one dose in the past 10 months. U.S. officials have repeatedly said the vast majority of people currently hospitalized and dying from Covid are unvaccinated. Falling and winter temperatures dropping could further increase the risk as people congregate in poorly ventilated areas where Covid can spread quickly, experts say.
“It’s getting cold, everyone goes inside, we close the windows, we have less air circulation, we have to be in heated places, and that will increase transmission under all circumstances,” said Taylor.
Challenges remain in some parts of the country. With infections falling sharply in southern states like Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, the Midwest is now the region with the highest rate of average daily new cases per capita.
Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin make up four of the eight states where the number of cases has increased by 5% or more in the past week.
Falling cases in the south are a major contributor to the overall downward trend in the US, according to former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who said the delta may still work its way through some parts of the country.
“The situation seems to be improving across the country because it is being driven by the sharp decline in cases in the south, but the situation in the west and the Midwest is very difficult right now,” said Gottlieb, who sits on the board of directors of vaccine maker Pfizer said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” on Wednesday.
In the northeast, where population-adjusted new case rates have been lowest throughout the delta rise, Gottlieb expects to see an increase in cases, but not nearly what the south or the Midwest saw.
Other health experts agreed. What the US pandemic looks like over the next few months will largely depend on how Americans behave at the start of the Christmas season. Getting vaccinated, getting booster shots, and avoiding large gatherings are crucial ways to mitigate groundbreaking cases and holiday outbreaks, said Dr. Bruce Farber, director of infectious diseases at Northwell Health in New York.
“Unvaccinated people should never be invited to a party,” Farber said.
They urged Americans to practice “common sense,” saying that people should still wear masks and social distancing indoors or in a crowded environment, especially around the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.
“When dozens upon millions of people go unvaccinated, it’s hard to believe the worst is behind you,” said Bogoch, an infectious disease expert.
Disclosure: Scott Gottlieb is a CNBC employee and a member of the board of directors of Pfizer, genetic testing startup Tempus, health technology company Aetion, and biotechnology company Illumina. He is also co-chair of the Healthy Sail Panel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean.