The pandemic is softening, but the reprieve may not last.
In the past week, a new picture has emerged in COVID-19 data: The pandemic seems to be receding from its high-water mark in the United States. The most dependable metric of COVID-19’s spread—the number of people currently in the hospital with the disease—is in its first sustained, week-over-week decline since September, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. Hospitalizations fell in the past week in every state but Vermont.
The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 is falling too. New cases declined in every region of the country last week. Cases even seem to be ebbing in the coronavirus epicenters of California and Arizona, though the Sun Belt remains a hot spot. In the past two weeks, only two states—New York and Virginia—have set a single-day record for new cases. (In contrast, 13states set a new record three weeks ago.)
In other words, the numbers are finally moving in the right direction. But while the trajectoryof the pandemicis encouraging, the overall level of infectionis staggering.
“We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” President Joe Biden declared in his inaugural address. The same day, the United States reported that 4,409 people had died of COVID-19, the highest toll of any day so far. Hospitalizations might be falling nationwide, but they remain twice as high today as they were at the peak of the previous two surges. In the South, new cases have fallen from their peak, but they are more numerous today than they were when the month began; in the Northeast and West, new cases exceed their level on December 1.