Sep 23, 2021 - Health

Some experts see signs of hope as COVID cases fall

Change in COVID-19 cases per 100k people in the last two weeks
Data: N.Y. Times; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New coronavirus cases are continuing to decline, and some experts are cautiously optimistic that the virus will continue to wane even into the fall and winter.

The big picture: The next few months are highly uncertain, and some localized outbreaks are all but guaranteed. But the U.S. is at least moving in the right direction again.

By the numbers: The U.S. is now averaging roughly 134,000 new cases per day — a 10% drop over the past two weeks.

  • The pace of new infections, relative to each state's population, is getting worse in 27 states and improving in 23. Tennessee has seen the biggest drop in new cases over the past two weeks, while Montana has seen the biggest spike.

Yes, but: Deaths have increased by about 33% over the past two weeks, to an average of about 2,000 per day.

  • Deaths are a lagging indicator — the last number to go up when a new wave begins, and the last to go down when that wave is receding.

What's next: The U.S. has seen brief moments of progress before. They've never lasted long. But some experts believe the pandemic may actually keep shrinking over the next several months.

  • The NIH is looking at models that suggest cases may be down to about 15,000 per day by November, STAT reports. Between vaccinations and people who have already been sick, the number of Americans with some immune protection from the virus is pretty high.
  • Vaccinations for kids will also help contain the virus. Children ages 5–11 could become eligible for vaccinations in the next several weeks, according to NIAID director Anthony Fauci.

The other side: Localized outbreaks are always the way viruses spread. They might balloon into another nationwide surge, or they might stay contained.

  • Either way, those ups and downs will likely continue to pose a real threat to the unvaccinated, even if the country’s overall trajectory keeps heading in the right direction.
  • And another new variant could throw off that trajectory altogether.

The bottom line: "I hope it's true, obviously, but I can't shake a little unease I have about what could be coming," Emory University biostatistics professor Natalie Dean told NPR.

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