Four reasons why experts say coronavirus cases are falling in the United States

Some point to the fast pace of coronavirus vaccine administration, some say it is due to the natural seasonal ebb of respiratory viruses, and others chalk it up to social distancing measures.

And each explanation is added with two important warnings: the country is still in a bad place and continues to hack more than 90,000 new cases every day, and recent progress can still be jeopardized, either by new rapidly spreading virus variants or by relaxed social distance measures.

The rolling daily average of new infections in the United States reached its highest level of 248,200 on January 12, according to data collected and analyzed by The Washington Post. Since then, the number has dropped every day, hitting 91,000 on Sunday, the lowest level since November.

A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the idea that Americans now see the effect of their good behavior – not of increased vaccinations.

“I do not think the vaccine has much effect on the rates at all,” Tom Frieden said said in an interview Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” “That’s what we do right: stay separate, wear masks, do not travel, do not mix with others indoors.”

Frieden noted, however, that the country’s numbers are still higher than they were during the spring and summer virus waves, and “we are not near the forest.”

“We have had three increases,” Frieden said. “Whether we have a fourth wave or not is up to us and the stakes can not be higher.”

The current CDC director, Rochelle Walensky, said in a round of TV interviews Sunday morning that behavior will be crucial in averting yet another increase in infections and that it is far too early for states to lift mask mandates. Walensky also noted the declining number, but said the cases are still “more than two and a half times as much as we saw over the summer.”

“It’s encouraging to see these trends come down, but they are coming down from an extraordinarily high place,” she says. said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, publisher of a popular coronavirus model, are among those who attribute declining cases to vaccines and the seasonality of the virus, which researchers have said may spread faster in colder weather.

In IHME’s recent briefing, published Friday, the authors write that cases have “fallen sharply” and dropped nearly 50 percent since early January.

“Thaw [factors] drives transmission down, ”says the briefing. “1) the continued upscaling of vaccination aided by the proportion of adults willing to accept the vaccine reaches 71 percent, and 2) declining seasonal conditions, which will contribute to declining transmission potential from now to August.”

The model predicts 152,000 more covid-19 deaths by June 1, but projects that the vaccine rollout will save 114,000 lives.

Nearly 40 million people have received at least their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, approx. 12 percent of the U.S. population. Experts have said that 70 to 90 percent of the population needs immunity, either through vaccination or prior infection, to reverse the pandemic. And some leading epidemiologists have agreed with Frieden and said that there are not enough people vaccinated to make such a significant dent in the cases.

A fourth, less optimistic explanation has also emerged: Several new cases are simply going unnoticed. On Twitter, Eleanor Murray, Professor of Epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, said an increased focus on vaccine distribution and administration may make it more difficult to be tested.

“I’m afraid it’s at least in part an artifact of resources shifting from testing to vaccination,” Murray said of the declines.

Covid Tracking Project, som collects and publishes data on coronavirus testing, has actually observed a steady decline in testing recently, from more than 2 million a day in mid-January to about 1.6 million a month later. The latest update of the project blames this dip for “a combination of reduced demand as well as reduced availability or availability of tests.”

“Demand for testing may have fallen because fewer people are ill or have been exposed to infected individuals, but perhaps also because testing is not promoted as strongly,” the authors write.

They note that a delayed attempt during the holidays was likely to lead to an artificial increase in reported tests in early January, but that even when adjusted, it is still “unequivocally the wrong direction for a country that needs to understand the movements of the virus during a slow vaccine rollout and spread of several new variants. ”

Where most experts agree: The mutated variants of the virus pose perhaps the biggest threat to the country’s recovery. One spreads rapidly and another, known as B.1.351, contains a mutation that can help the virus partially avoid natural and vaccine-induced antibodies.

Fewer than 20 cases have been reported in the United States, however a critically ill man in France emphasizes the potentially dangerous consequences of the variant. The 58-year-old had a mild coronavirus infection in September, and strain B.1.351 re-infected him four months later.

Whatever is causing the current decline in new infections, experts have urged Americans to avoid complacency.

“Masks, removal, ventilation, avoiding gatherings, being vaccinated when warranted. These are the tools we have to continue the long trek down the high mountain, “said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. on Twitter. “The variants may throw us a curve ball, but if we continue to run down transmission, we may get to a better place.”

Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.

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