COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations down in the United States
Average daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to decline in the United States, an indicator that the grip of the omicron variant is weakening across the country.
The total number of confirmed cases reported on Saturday was just over 100,000, a sharp drop from around 800,850 five weeks ago on January 16, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In New York, the number of cases has fallen by more than 50% in the past two weeks.
“I think what’s influencing the decline, of course, is that omicron is starting to run out of people to infect,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and head of infectious diseases at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. from the University at Buffalo.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down from a national seven-day average of 146,534 on January 20 to 80,185 the week ending February 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID data tracker.
Public health experts say they hope more declines are to come and the country moves from a pandemic to a more consistent and predictable “endemic”. However, many have expressed concern that the U.S. vaccine surge is still below expectations, concerns that are exacerbated by the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said on Sunday that the drop in the number of cases and hospitalizations was encouraging. He agreed it probably had a lot to do with herd immunity.
“There are two sides to the omicron coin,” he said. “The bad thing is that it can spread to a lot of people and make them slightly sick. The good thing is that it can spread to a lot of people and make them slightly sick, because in doing so it has created a lot of natural diseases. immunity.”
However, Schaffner said it was far too early to “raise the banner of mission accomplished.” As a public health expert, he said he would be more comfortable if the decline continued for another month or two.
“If I have one concern, it’s that removing interventions, restrictions, can be done with a little more enthusiasm and speed than I’m comfortable with,” he said. . “My own little adage is that it’s better to wear the mask for a month too long, than to take it off a month too soon and all of a sudden have another flare-up.”
Officials in many states are scaling back restrictions, saying they are moving away from treating the coronavirus pandemic as a public health crisis and moving instead to policy focused on prevention.
At a press conference on Friday, Utah Governor Spencer Cox announced that the state would transition to what he called a “steady state” model beginning in April, during which Utah will close mass testing sites, report COVID-19 cases on a more infrequent basis and advise residents to make personal choices to manage risk of contracting the virus.
“Now let me be clear, this is not the end of COVID, but it is the end – or rather the beginning – of treating COVID as we do for other seasonal respiratory viruses,” said the Republican.
Also on Friday, Boston lifted the city’s proof-of-vaccination policy, which required customers and staff in indoor spaces to show proof of vaccination.
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“This news highlights the progress we’ve made in our fight against Covid-19 through vaccines and boosters,” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu said via Twitter.
Dr. Amy Gordon Bono, a primary care physician in Nashville, said now is not the time to cut vaccination efforts, but to double them. In the spring of 2021, when vaccines were becoming more readily available, the United States was “eager to declare independence from COVID,” she said. Then came the delta and omicron surges.
Bono, who attended medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans, said the United States should approach COVID like hurricane season.
“You have to learn to live with COVID and you have to learn from it,” she said.
One challenge is that each region has a unique landscape, she said. In the southern United States, for example, many restrictions were lifted for a while or never existed. Yet it is also a region where vaccination rates are relatively low.
“We’ve suffered so much and if there’s one way to help ease future suffering, it’s to have a more immunized community,” she said.
In Buffalo, Russo said he saw two possible future outcomes. In one, the United States is experiencing a fairly calm spring and summer while immunity is still strong. He said that in this scenario it is likely that immunity will decline and there will be an increase in new cases during the colder months of the flu season, but hopefully not a big surge. .
In the second – the one concerning public health experts – a new variant evolves and escapes the immune wall that has been built up by both omicron infections and vaccinations.
“The big question is whether such a variant can evolve, isn’t it? he said. “That’s the concern that we’ll have to see through. Omicron was the first version of that, and there’s this kind of saying that ‘well, over time viruses evolve to be less virulent’, but this isn’t really true. Viruses evolve to be able to infect us.”