The end of the pandemic may be in sight, but we’re not quite there yet: Coronavirus cases in the United States are on the rise again. Over the past week, the U.S. has reported an average of 61,583 new COVID-19 cases a day, which represents a 12 percent increase from two weeks ago. That’s a long way from January’s peak, when the country averaged 250,400 new cases a day, but it’s trending in the wrong direction.
Scientists attribute the rising numbers to two things: the spread of more communicable coronavirus variants and state and local governments prematurely loosening measures designed to slow the spread of the virus. The variant known as B.1.1.7, now widespread in the United States, is at least 50 percent more transmissible than earlier variants, and public health officials are now in a race to roll out vaccines before the variants cause a new wave of infections. The existing vaccines protect against all of the coronavirus variants currently widespread in the United States but may be less effective against B.1.351, a variant identified in South Africa.
Epidemiologist Bill Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told the New York Times the disconnect between scientist’s predictions and the government’s response reminded him of the early days of the pandemic.* “People waited for them to be a problem before they took action—and then too late, they took action,” Hanage said. Still, there’s at least one silver lining: Compared with previous coronavirus surges, these new cases may result in fewer deaths and hospitalizations, because many of the most vulnerable people have now been vaccinated.
Correction, March 29, 2021: This post originally misidentified the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as the the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health.