This Is the "Bad News" About COVID Right Now, Virus Expert Warns

The pandemic is improving, but we're not totally in the clear.

The coronavirus has been circulating in the U.S. for close to two years now. During this unprecedented time, the country has experienced several waves of high surges and declines. COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths reached new heights over the summer due to the fast-spreading Delta variant and a slowing rate of vaccinations. But over the past few months, things have quickly moved in the right direction. In early October, daily cases dropped below 100,000 for the first time since early August, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While these numbers have continued to fall, however, virus experts are now warning us not to let our guard down, because there is still bad news about the COVID pandemic.

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As of Nov. 5, COVID cases are still declining in the U.S. by more than 1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But Ashish Jha, MD, dean of Brown's School of Public Health, says that the situation is a little more complicated than it might seem. The infectious disease expert warns that these numbers are an indication cases are no longer rapidly decreasing.

"Bad news: rapid declines in cases has plateaued," Jha tweeted on Nov. 7. "Over [the] past two weeks, new infections [are] flat at about 75,000 per day."

At the same time, Jha acknowledged that we could be in a much worse situation right now, especially compared to what the country experienced one year ago. This time last year, "infection numbers were taking off" and "doubling every three weeks," according to data shared by Jha. Now in Nov. 2021, COVID cases in the U.S. are flat, despite the highly contagious Delta variant still circulating and schools being open.

"You all know why," Jha tweeted. "Nearly 60 percent of Americans [are] now fully vaccinated. So as the air gets cold and dry, the virus—spreading more efficiently—keeps running into walls of vaccinated people and can't accelerate."

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Some states are faring better than others, Jha noted. According to the infectious disease expert, the top five states with the highest new COVID infections per capita all have below average vaccination rates. This includes Alaska with 82.2 daily new cases per 100,000, Minnesota with 69.6, North Dakota with 65, Montana with 61.6, and Wyoming with 59.

As far as vaccination goes, Alaska has given at least one dose to 60 percent of its population, Minnesota has done the same to 66 percent, North Dakota to 55 percent, Montana to 57 percent, and Wyoming to 51 percent. These percentages are all lower than the overall vaccination rate in the U.S. among all ages, where at least one dose has been given to 67 percent of the country's population, per The New York Times.

Even states with high vaccination rates are "seeing outbreaks in less vaccinated communities of those states" right now, Jha added. Last year, as the weather got colder, people started heading indoors, and social interactions increased, which made COVID surge everywhere across the country. According to Jha, there are ways to avoid this kind of spike this year.

"Over [the] next couple of months, as we go into the holidays, social interactions will push infections up more," he explained. "But if we can get more adults vaccinated, kids vaccinated, folks booster, ubiquitous testing, [and] masking in high risk situations, we can definitely avoid another winter surge."

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