Positive trends in pandemic statistics in the US are easy to distrust. After all, the country saw two false dawns last year, in late spring and then again in late summer, as declines tapered if reports came even darker days ahead. Each time, the apparently good news led to relaxations and reopenings that added to the next wave.
It is therefore not surprising that public health experts are concerned about the recent flattening of the pandemic curve, from the sharp drop in cases in late January and February to a plateau or slight drop more recently. With contagious variants of the virus becoming more prevalent, they fear the good news will end and a fourth wave may emerge.
Even so, there are positive signs:
Daily death reports, which stayed stubbornly high long after the surge after the holidays, have finally plummeted sharply to levels not seen since mid-November. As of Monday, the nation had recorded an average of 1,051 newly reported Covid deaths per day for the past week. The average was 3,000 for weeks over the winter.
Some recent hotspots have made great strides – particularly Los Angeles, where Mayor Eric Garcetti said on CBS Sunday that he "hasn't felt that optimism in 12 months". The city and surrounding county, where cases jumped 450 percent in some areas during the holidays and hospitals were so overcrowded that some ambulances were turned away, now have a positive test rate of about 1.9 percent, and in one important shift, new case reports have fallen among people affected by homelessness.
Vaccinations are becoming more accessible week by week as states receive more doses and open up authorization, in some cases to all adult residents as well. The number of daily doses given is increasing and the country surpassed President Biden's original target of 100 million shots on March 19, nearly six weeks ahead of schedule.
The question now is which one will prevail: the positive effects of such trends or the negative effects of casual behavior and the development of the virus into more dangerous forms?
It is still "a race between vaccinations and variants," said Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, on Twitter. Like other experts, he warned: "Opening too quickly helps the variants."