After six straight weeks of declines in new Covid-19 cases in the US, that number has started to plateau, even as hospitalizations and deaths continue to drop.
The 7-day average of daily new cases was just over 72,000 on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, a total that is relatively unchanged from last Thursday. Compare those numbers to the previous Thursday, February 11, when the US averaged about 102,000 new cases per day.
Experts say it is too soon to tell whether this one-week flattening represents a small blip or the beginning of a broader issue.
“I’ve been watching this and have been wondering the same thing,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CN. “We have not seen widespread increases, but there is that flattening. We’ll have to monitor this closely. The other thing we have to track is how the new variant is doing and whether that’s part of the reason.”
Getting infection numbers down now not only will help prevent the virus from further mutating but will also give vaccines a better shot at remaining effective.
Meanwhile, new Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations, which trail several weeks behind cases, have continued to sharply decline. And the two vaccines approved in the US have shown extraordinary success in limiting severe Covid-19, making the race to vaccinate so important.
Vaccines are already working in the real world
Both in the US and abroad, the vaccines are quickly proving their effectiveness.
A study of about 600,000 vaccinated people in Israel found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine remains highly effective at preventing symptomatic coronavirus infections under real-world conditions.
The risk of symptomatic Covid-19 – meaning people who were infected with the coronavirus and felt sick – decreased by 94% among people who received two doses of the vaccine, according to the study. Even before the second dose, the vaccine’s effectiveness approached 60%.
The vaccine cut the risk of severe disease by 92% and was highly effective across age groups, too. The vaccine also appeared to protect against a highly transmissible coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, researchers said.
Details of the study were first reported last week, but the full, peer-reviewed findings were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results confirm that the vaccine remains remarkably effective outside the carefully controlled conditions of a clinical trial.
In addition, a New York Times analysis of federal data found that new cases and deaths have fallen significantly in nursing homes since vaccinations began in late December, outpacing the national declines.
Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, described this as a “cratering” of hospitalizations and deaths in nursing homes.
“It is really going down to levels we haven’t seen since before the initial big outbreaks in New York City,” he said. “And that is incredibly good news and a reflection of just how important vaccination in those settings have been. Hopefully it is a sign of what is to come as we get more vaccination going faster now that the weather is better. Now that the number of vaccines and shots in arms is going up.”
A third vaccine for US could be just days away
The US could be just days away from getting another vaccine on the market.
Vaccine advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will meet on Friday to determine whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine