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The pandemic’s grip is loosening. As we reported last week, cases are down 57 percent from the country’s all-time peak in early January. For the first time since November, the United States saw a single day with fewer than 100,000 cases of COVID-19. Finally, a bit of relief.
“Some pandemic statistics are foggy,” our staff writer Derek Thompson notes, “but the current decline of COVID-19 is crystal clear.”
What’s driving that decline? Here are four reasons for it, as explained by Derek.
1. Behavior: Maybe Americans finally got the hang of this mask and social-distancing thing.
“If I were ranking explanations for the decline in COVID-19, behavior would be No. 1,” says Ali Mokdad, a global-health professor at the University of Washington, in Seattle. “If you look at mobility data the week after Thanksgiving and Christmas, activity went down.”
2. Seasonality: The coronavirus was perhaps destined to decline this time of year.
“Many viruses fare best in cold and dry conditions; they’re not well designed to thrive in warmer, sunnier, and more humid outdoor areas.”
3. Partial immunity: Is the virus running out of bodies?
Fifteen to 30 percent of American adults have already been infected with COVID-19, according to CDC estimates. Since people recovering from COVID-19 typically develop lasting immunological protection for many months (at least), the number of antibodies swirling around the U.S. population may naturally constrict the original coronavirus’s path forward.
4. Vaccines: The shots work.
The vaccines—especially the synthetic-mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—are highly effective at preventing infection. But preventing infection is not all they do. Among those infected, they also reduce symptomatic illness.
One question, answered: Is it safe to go back to the movie theater?
Sonny Bunch, the culture editor of The Bulwark, argues that—if you accept that abstaining from social contact is unrealistic—“theaters for some may represent a worthwhile risk.” He writes:
Despite being indoors (a red flag), the sort of behavior engaged in at the movies is, relatively speaking, benign. Patrons who can and should wear a mask for the duration of their visit face the same direction and don’t chatter much. Theaters are “less risky than places like gyms, where people are breathing heavily and sweating, or bars, where people can get too close or talk loudly and expel more of the virus, even with masking requirements,” Natascha Tuznik, a UC Davis Health professor, said when California theaters were considering reopening.
Tonight’s Atlantic-approved isolation activity:
What is hyperpop? The new genre borrows from “punk’s brattiness, hip-hop’s boastfulness, and metal’s noise.” Learn more about its brash, provocative style. And sample some hyperpop selections on our Spotify playlist.
Today’s break from the news:
The Black abolitionist Prince Hall deserves to be reinstated into the tale of America’s creation, the Harvard historian Danielle Allen argues.
This article is part of “Inheritance,” our new project about American history, Black life, and the resilience of memory. Tomorrow, Allen and other Atlantic writers will bring the project to life during a live virtual event at 1 p.m. ET. Join us.