The good news is that across the country, the number of new coronavirus infections is declining rapidly. The interesting thing is that scientists disagree on why this is happening.
A story this past weekend in The Washington Post website reported four theories:
• The percentage of people who have received one or both of the vaccinations is slowly but surely increasing. On Monday, the Post counted 38.7 million people who have received at least one dose. That is 11.7% of the population. Last week, 1.62 million people got a shot.
That exceeded President Biden’s goal of 1.5 million per week.
• Social-distancing measures are making a difference. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, endorsed this idea to the point of saying the vaccine isn’t much help yet. Frieden said staying apart, wearing a mask and not traveling are limiting the spread of the virus.
• There is a natural seasonal ebbing in respiratory viruses. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said there is the potential for the transmission rate to decline from now through August. Though it should be noted that if the coronavirus is more likely to spread in cold weather, it has found paradise in the South this week, which has been enduring a heavy coat of ice and snow as well as record low temperatures.
• There is less testing being done as resources start to focus aggressively on getting people vaccinated. The Covid Tracking Project reports there were 2 million tests per day in mid-January. Now there are 1.6 million, a decrease of 20%, apparently due to reduced demand for the tests and reduced availability.
The one thing upon which the experts agree is that the winter rate of infection was exceptionally high. They say that even though the rate of new cases has come way down over the past month, the public should not expect that this pandemic is about to go away.
They note correctly that whatever is decreasing the infection rate over the past month, Americans should remember that it’s coming down from the highest numbers recorded since the virus arrived last spring.
On Jan. 12, the national seven-day average of new infections hit an all-time high of 248,000. Since then, it has declined every day. Sunday’s seven-day average of 91,000 new infections is the lowest figure since November.
The University of Washington’s model predicts another 152,000 virus deaths by June 1, which would put the running total at 637,000. Eleven months ago, few among us would have believed that the death toll already would be 485,000 people, but that’s where we are.
If a “seasonal ebbing” is one reason why the number of infections are down, good for that. But even better would be to do some of the things we can control.
People who meet the current guidelines for the vaccine should arrange to be immunized if they wish; and everyone should follow the social distancing recommendations, which include wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.