U.S. Covid Cases Are Rising Again, Reversing Months of Progress

Covid cases in the U.S. are rising again, reversing course after months of decline and threatening another setback in the return to normality.

The seven-day average of new cases jumped to 57,695 Wednesday, 9.5% above the prior week, marking the biggest increase since Jan. 12, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

While that’s a fraction of the mid-January peak, the change in direction is worrisome as states fling open their economies, variant cases multiply and the country races to vaccinate as many people as possible to stave off another wave.

“We are not out of danger,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which produces influential Covid-19 projections. “We’re slowing down, and in many places going in the wrong direction.”

U.S. Covid Cases Are Rising Again, Reversing Months of Progress

New York case numbers reported this week by Johns Hopkins appeared artificially inflated after data lags. But that didn’t have a meaningful impact on the national trend, which is rising to roughly the same degree even without New York.

“Now is not the time to let up. We have the goal in sight, we need more vaccines and we need more effective ways to get it out,” said Isaac Weisfuse, a medical epidemiologist and adjunct professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “It’s really nothing short of a tragedy for somebody to get infected and die at this stage.”

An almost 10% uptick should have states reconsidering reopening plans and trying to accelerate vaccination, focusing on the hardest-hit neighborhoods, Weisfuse said. Growing pandemic fatigue among younger Americans, especially those traveling for spring break, is a significant concern, because they’re less likely to have received shots.

The U.S. has vaccinated 1 in 4 people, and last week averaged about 2.5 million doses per day, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That’s not enough to reach herd immunity and many public-health experts fear another surge could occur before the immunization push reaches full steam. Texas, Tennessee and Alabama are among the slowest in the country, which may reflect vaccine hesitancy among Republicans, especially men.

While vaccinations and waning seasonality of the coronavirus are playing to the U.S.’s advantage, that’s weighed against more-contagious variants, increasing mobility and declining mask-wearing, Mokdad said.

Case declines in big states such as California, Texas and Florida have masked rises elsewhere. “We’re seeing a localized surge, but we could see it everywhere,” Mokdad said. “If we are not quick to dialing back or imposing mandates to slow down the surge, yes, we’re going to see a surge in cases.”

Hospitalizations in some states also are beginning to defy the downward trend. Seven states, including New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, reported increasing average daily Covid-19 admissions for a week straight, according to a University of Minnesota analysis of data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s important not to ignore changes, especially when those changes become more consistent,” said Pinar Karaca-Mandic, a health-care risk management professor leading the analysis.

The good news: Fewer of those hospitalizations may lead to intensive-care admissions or deaths, because the vaccination campaign has focused on elderly Americans and those most at risk, Karaca-Mandic said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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