While the “Mission Accomplished” banner may have been raised prematurely before, as the omicron variant seems to be peaking, health experts are cautiously optimistic that COVID may be against the ropes in the US.
According to a new Reuters analysis of public health data, new coronavirus cases are falling significantly in parts of the US hit the hardest by the omicron variant, indicating that the virus may finally be on a more lasting retreat.
COVID-19 infections have decreased in 15 states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, an analysis of the past week showed as compared with the prior week.
In the Northeast, which saw some of the highest caseloads during the latest surge, infections are now down 36% week-over-week.
The drop was more modest at the national level, with the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases falling 1%, according to the Reuters tally.
COVID-19 data often lag a few days behind the actual state of affairs.
“Certainly, it bodes well for us in terms of the trajectory of omicron,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University in New York City.
While falling case numbers in parts of the country that were hardest hit by the variant offer tangible hope of turning a corner, infections are still on the rise across swathes of the United States.
Cases are still climbing in the Midwest, which has the highest week-over-week increase at 14%, followed by the South at 8% and Western states at 7%, although the increase has slowed considerably in recent weeks.
Nationally, cases are averaging a still high 765,000 a day, down from a peak of 805,000 on Jan. 15. Deaths, which usually lag about three weeks behind cases, are averaging 1,950 a day, up from 1,300 at the start of the month but well below the 3,300 lives lost a day during the surge in January 2021.
COVID hospitalizations, also a lagging indicator, hit a record high of 152,555, according to the Reuters tally, but have been showing signs of stabilizing around the 150,000 mark over the past week.
“We have to be cognizant that we’re not out of the woods, that there’s a glimmer of hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” El-Sadr said. “That light is closer or further away based on who you are and where you happen to be.”
The recent drop in cases in states like New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island is not the only cause for optimism.
El-Sadr pointed to positive developments in the current fight against the pandemic, including that omicron has proven to be milder compared to other strains of COVID-19, the great protection of vaccines against severe illness, and the potential for mRNA vaccines to be adapted quickly to new variants.