A patient with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is admitted to one of the COVID-19 wards at SSM Health’s St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on January 28, 2021.
Nick Oxford | Reuters
The United States appears to be cracking down on the Covid-19 pandemic as cases and hospital stays in the United States decline rapidly. However, this progress could be thwarted by more contagious strains that have quickly spread to other parts of the world.
The U.S. reported 134,300 new cases of the virus on Monday, bringing the average number of new cases in the past seven days to 146,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. That is around 41% less than last month with almost 250,000 new cases per day.
The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 across the country has also decreased. According to the COVID Tracking Project, founded by journalists from The Atlantic, there were 93,500 people in hospitals with Covid-19 in the US as of Monday. That’s about 29% less than the high of 132,400 people hospitalized with the disease in the U.S. on Jan. 6.
Daily new deaths from Covid-19 remain high but appear to have reached a plateau. According to Hopkins data, more than 3,100 Americans die from the disease every day, based on an average of seven days. New deaths every day are delaying cases and hospital stays by a few weeks, so epidemiologists expect this number to fall soon as well.
However, epidemiologists warn that the US is at a dangerous point in the pandemic. They expressed concern that the falling numbers could lull the country into a feeling of complacency if more caution than ever is required. And while the numbers are not peaking, the level of infection remains so high in most parts of the country that easing restrictions as well as the proliferation of more contagious variants could still reverse the country’s progress.
The declining numbers are due to the fact that federal health officials likely saw an increase due to travel and celebrations related to the winter holidays, including Christmas and New Years. Dr. Bill Schaffner, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said he was concerned the trends would not continue.
“There already seems to be a tendency, even in my own community, to reopen things and leave the bar open later and things like that,” Schaffner said in a telephone interview. “I worry about this because I thought we learned that lesson. As soon as you do, the cases come back up.”
And while the US has now approved two vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer– –BioNTechthe rollout has cleared hurdles, emphasized Schaffner. The Trump administration had hoped to distribute enough vaccine doses to immunize 100 million people until the end of February. So far, the US has reportedly distributed nearly 50 million doses of the two-shot vaccines Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schaffner said state and district officials are speeding up the vaccination process as they are comfortable with the shots, but there is still a long way to go. He added that he hopes Johnson & JohnsonThe one-shot vaccine will be approved this month, bolstering the US supply of doses.
In addition to easing restrictions and a slow roll-out of vaccines, Schaffner noted that the emergence of new, more contagious variants could also lead to a resurgence if they spread widely in the U.S. Epidemiologists are mostly concerned with three variants from Great Britain, Brazil and South Africa, all of which were found in Covid-19 patients in the USA. The strain B.1.1.7 was discovered in the UK in autumn and is the dominant variant there; The B.1.351 was recently found in South Africa and has settled there. The P.1 variant in Brazil has become the dominant Covid-19 strain there.
The US doesn’t perform nearly as many genetic sequences as the UK, for example. Hence, it is difficult to know exactly how widespread the variants are in the US CDC has confirmed more than 400 B.1.1.7 cases, three cases of B.1.351 and only one case of P.1. But Schaffner said the variants could soon be “widespread”.
Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, said the proliferation of the new variants could lead to “exponential explosive spread”.
“There is a sense of fear of what is to come,” she said.
– CNBCs Nate Rattner contributed to this report.