After peaking in the middle of January 2021, new cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been on a rapid decline. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the seven-day average for new cases had decreased by 64 percent as of February 14. On February 15, the United States reported 64,938 new cases (as reported by Johns Hopkins University), which is the lowest number of daily new cases since October 25.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has reported that he is cautiously optimistic about this possible indication of a sharp decline in the pandemic in the United States. However, he, like other top health officials, continue to note that social distancing, masking, and other public safety measures should remain in effect. What do experts believe is causing the rapid decrease in new cases?
Is It the Vaccine?
Though the vaccine rollout is underway across the United States, experts do not believe that vaccinations are wholly responsible for the decrease in coronavirus cases. Many believe that vaccines could be partially responsible.
However, since cases first began to fall in the middle of January when hardly anyone outside of direct involvement in healthcare was vaccinated, it is very unlikely that vaccines were solely or even primarily responsible for the sharp decline. Certainly, vaccines will continue to be important in future declines, but experts point to a number of other factors as reasons for this particular decline.
The consensus among many top health experts is that the more likely reason for the sharp decline is that Americans have finally begun adhering to behavioral guidelines in greater numbers. With a focus on social distancing, more masking, and fewer people traveling, coronavirus cases have likely decreased as a result.
This is not necessarily new information; cases spiked in the spring, after many areas in the southern United States refused to issue mask mandates, only decreasing again after mask-wearing increased. It is important that Americans do not view this most recent decline as a reason to relax mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines again. Doing so could very likely result in yet another dangerous surge and an increase in hospitalizations and deaths.
Another reason for the decline could also be simply due to the seasonal nature of some coronaviruses. Studies suggest that other coronaviruses naturally decrease in the spring and summer, though researchers do not truly know why this may be. For now, Americans should continue to keep up with precautionary behaviors, like masking and social distancing, and get the vaccines when they become available.