Yesterday, the United States reported 96,003 cases of COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. That makes Sunday the first single day with fewer than 100,000 cases since November 2, three long months ago.
The count could possibly exceed that threshold again today or later this week, because yesterday’s count is missing numbers from several states, and case numbers typically spike at the beginning or in the middle of the week as the weekend numbers come in.
For weeks, though, the case count has been headed in the right direction, and quickly. On January 11, the seven-day average peaked at 248,725 new daily cases; it’s now at 117,108, less than half. Hospitalizations are also down. After hovering around 130,000 in mid-January, they’re at just over 80,000, about where they were in mid-November. These trends are finally starting to be reflected in the death toll. The seven-day average fell below 3,000 for the first time since January 19.
Still, the country remains at a higher level of hospitalizations than in either the spring or summer surge, neither of which exceeded 60,000 hospitalizations. It’s also likely that the U.S. case count would be more than 100,000 if the U.S. was doing more testing. The seven-day testing average is about where it was in mid-November as well; after peaking at more than 2 million on January 18, it’s now at 1.6 million.
But testing is complicated. There’s less demand, in part, because the virus is less prevalent. When people perceive a higher risk—from their social circles, from the news, from government and public-health leaders—of contracting the coronavirus, they’re more likely to get tested. More positive tests and more hospitalizations also mean more contact tracing, which increases demand for tests. Less testing isn’t welcome news, exactly, but it does reflect improved conditions.
And we don’t have data on many of the rapid point-of-care tests now in use, so some of the decline in testing numbers, which come mostly from more intensive diagnostic testing, might be offset by the increased use of those rapid tests.
These trends show what is possible with diligent measures to control the virus; they are not cause to let our guard down. One infectious-disease expert told CNN that we’re in “the eye of the hurricane … the big wall is about to hit us again and these are the new variants.” A new preprint found evidence that the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant is spreading, rising in Florida from 5 to 10 percent of new infections in a week. Its findings, not yet peer reviewed, support the CDC’s prediction that it could become the dominant strain in March—a year from when the true danger of COVID-19 began to dawn on the U.S.