WHO Baffled as COVID Numbers Plummet Over Past Couple of Weeks
Officials say vaccine not responsible for 'phenomenon' of sudden drop in cases
The World Health Organization (WHO) is baffled by a sudden massive drop in COVID-19 cases across America over the past two-three weeks, according to reports.
U.S. officials have noted that it is still too early to see the impact of the vaccines as fewer than 2 percent of the population has been fully immunized.
Daily cases in the United States have dropped by a staggering 45 percent since the latest peak on January 11, according to data from the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
After pulling back slightly from the peak, data shows a sharp drop in cases from January 21 onward.
This Wednesday, there were 131,341 new cases reported in the U.S.
Since the peak in mid-January, the data shows hospitalizations have fallen 26 percent, with 96,534 reported in the hospital as of Wednesday.
Forty-four states are seeing a decline in cases, Johns Hopkins data reveals, with just Alabama, Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, on the upswing.
In addition, as the country headed into February, COVID-19 hospitalizations fell below 100,000 for the first time in two months.
Currently, 92,880 patients are hospitalized with the virus, the lowest figure seen since November 29 and falling nearly 30 percent from a peak of 132,474 on January 6, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The U.S. death toll has surpassed 446,000 - with an average of about 3,200 deaths per day - but experts say fatalities are a lagging indicator and will likely increase over the next couple of weeks before declining as those severely infected over the winter holidays pass away.
However, most officials say that, with fewer than two percent of the population fully immunized against the virus, it is too soon to say that vaccines are causing the decline.
So the question remains: why are cases falling so fast in the U.S. and can the nation stay ahead of the fast-spreading mutations of the virus?
Public health experts believe that the decline in cases is likely a combination of a higher number of people who've had the virus than official counts suggest - meaning as many as 90 million people have antibodies against the virus - and fewer people traveling and holding gatherings than did over the winter holidays.
It's not just the U.S., however.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday it has also seen declining new infections globally over the past three weeks.
Our World in Data graphs show the daily infection rate has fallen by 30 percent in that period.
But Director-General Tedros Adhanom warned against relaxing restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus on the heels of the good news.
"Over the past year, there have been moments in almost all countries when cases declined, and governments opened up too quickly, and individuals let down their guard, only for the virus to come roaring back," he said.
Dr. Ali Mokdad, a professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), said there are a number of reasons for the decline in case.
Part of the U.S. population may have some level of immunity against the virus after already catching it, meaning the pathogen cannot spread as rapidly as it once did.
"The more infections than what has been detected...they are immune so the combination of the vaccine and past vaccine will help us," Mokdad said.
"People who have been infected are taken out of circulation, basically they are not getting the virus anymore."
He adds that the post-holiday surge is likely over, and is also responsible for the sharp decline.
Americans who became infected over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's likely reported their illnesses around early December and early January, when the U.S. saw peaks in total cases and hospitalizations.
With the winter holidays over and no holidays with large spikes in travel expected until Memorial Day in May, public health experts expect that the general public is mostly staying home and not holding large gatherings, which is also driving down the trend.
"People cut down on their travel and put on their best behavior," Mokdad said.
"And we have seen that in the past, every time cases go up, people are more likely to wear masks and they cut down on their mobility."
In a press conference on Wednesday, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky called the declining numbers "a consistent downward trajectory for both cases and deaths" and are at "pre-Thanksgiving levels," but warned that any gatherings with others will cause contagious variants to spread
Mokdad warns that there will likely be a "slight bump" in cases in April due to new variants from the UK, South, and Brazil, so people still need to be vigilant, keep modeling good behavior, and continue to become vaccinated when shots become available.
"Even if we see these declines, we shouldn't celebrate yet," he said, noting that this led to a surge in cases in late June and early July after a drop in infections in May.
"We should be more vigilant because it's telling us that if we can control this virus if we behave...
"Stay away from each other until we reach herd immunity."