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Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New coronavirus cases continued their sharp decline over the past week — progress that could help the U.S. find its way out of the pandemic faster and more safely, if it keeps up.

The big picture: Getting the virus' spread under control is the key to saving lives and reopening schools and businesses. And the tools to achieve that — masks, social distancing and vaccines — are also the most effective weapons against the more contagious variants that could threaten the U.S.' progress.

By the numbers: An average of 108,000 Americans were diagnosed with COVID-19 infections each day over the past week.

  • That’s a 24% decline from the week before.
  • Hospitalizations were also down last week, by about 8%, and deaths fell by 3%. The virus is still killing an average of roughly 3,000 Americans per day.

Between the lines: 108,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths per day is still a very bad situation, and shouldn't be considered a sustainable level of infection.

  • But after the horrific winter outbreak the U.S. experienced, the only way to have a small number of cases is to keep climbing down week after week. And that’s happening.
  • Nationwide, average daily cases have been declining by double digits for four weeks straight. Cumulatively, they've fallen by roughly 55% over that time.
  • It’s been three weeks since even a single state reported an increase in average daily infections.

This is real progress.

What’s next: Experts have warned that new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 are gaining ground in the U.S. and likely will soon become the dominant strain here. That means each infected person is more likely to spread the virus.

  • The best ways to avoid a surge in cases from those variants is to ramp up vaccinations, buckle down on masks and social distancing — including double masks when necessary — and continue to reduce the number of infected people.

Each week, Axios tracks the change in new infections in each state. We use a seven-day average to minimize the effects of day-to-day discrepancies in states’ reporting.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Feb 10, 2021 - Health

The pandemic's coming new normal

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Library of Congress/Corbis via Getty Images

As both vaccinations and acquired immunity spread, life will likely settle into a new normal that will resemble pre-COVID-19 days — with some major twists.

The big picture: While hospitalizations and deaths are tamped down, the novel coronavirus should recede as a mortal threat to the world. But a lingering pool of unvaccinated people — and the virus' own ability to mutate — will ensure SARS-CoV-2 keeps circulating at some level, meaning some precautions will be kept in place for years.

Feb 10, 2021 - Health

CDC asks public to consider wearing 2 masks or adjusting tighter fit

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Wearing two face masks or adjusting a mask to fit more snuggly can better help protect against COVID-19 and its highly transmissible variants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised in new guidance out Wednesday.

Why it matters: Modeling shows the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K. could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by the end of March, said Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, on Wednesday.

Feb 10, 2021 - Health

Colleges run into COVID-19 variants

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The highly contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 has popped up on many college campuses, calling into question their plans to let more students back on campus this spring, The New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The U.K. variant is expected to become the dominant strain within the U.S. relatively soon, and colleges' experience with it could foreshadow what's next for society at large.