- New COVID-19 cases, as well as deaths and hospitalizations, continue to decline in the United States.
- Experts say this trend could stifle a resurgence of COVID-19 cases this summer.
- They say the United States’ vaccination rate and the number of cases here during the Omicron have built up a healthy level of immunity.
- They warn, however, that a new variant, such as BA.2, could fuel another surge.
The United States could be heading toward its most “normal” summer in years as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane nationally.
Daily new cases of COVID-19 infection have steadily declined, dropping to a seven-day average of less than 27,000 during the first week of April compared to a peak of more than 800,000 in mid-January at the height of the Omicron surge.
There are now fewer than 13,000 people hospitalized nationwide with COVID-19, compared to nearly 140,000 in mid-January.
The daily death rate from COVID-19 has fallen to below 500, compared to more than 3,000 in early February.
“We’ve come a long way in terms of cases and deaths,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. “The number of people in the hospital is at the lowest point since the beginning of the first wave of COVID-19 in March 2020. Deaths are almost at the lowest point and are still falling, with the number being cut in half about every two weeks.”
“I’m not saying we’re done with COVID, but we certainly continue to move the numbers in the right direction,” Dowdy told Healthline. “If I had to place a bet, I do expect to see the trend line continue. In the U.S., I think this summer will be much better than the last two.”
That prediction is supported by the fact the United States is enjoying a particularly high level of immunity against COVID-19 at the moment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 82 percent of Americans over age 5 have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with almost 70 percent considered fully vaccinated. Of the latter, about half have also received at least one vaccine booster shot.
In addition, with the widespread infections with the highly contagious Omicron variant, Dowdy estimates that upward of 95 percent of people in the United States have some degree of natural immunity against COVID-19.
“Most unvaccinated people have been infected already,” he noted.
Dr. Tammy Lundstrom, an infectious disease specialist and chief medical officer at Trinity Health, agrees.
“Omicron ran out of fuel [of] non-immune people to infect,” she told Healthline.
Despite the encouraging numbers, experts stress that there’s no guarantee that another COVID-19 surge won’t occur.
The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, for example, has recently become the dominant strain of the disease in the United States and has been linked to a slight uptick in cases in the Northeast.
“We’re currently seeing increases in the proportions of cases that are attributed to BA.2 variant of Omicron,” Daniel Parker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California Irvine’s Program in Public Health, told Healthline. “Whether or not this means we will soon have another surge of cases is hard to predict. This variant is highly transmissible, but it is also closely related to the other Omicron variants, which drove our very recent surge.”
Dr. Thomas Kenyon, chief health officer at Project Hope and former head of the CDC’s Center for Global Health, noted that COVID-19 is still killing almost 500 Americans daily.
“Though we may be in a lull in the pandemic at the moment, we need to continue to be vigilant having learned the hard way that the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic can rapidly change,” Kenyon told Healthline.
As COVID-19 slowly transitions from a global pandemic to an endemic disease like influenza, new variants are likely to emerge periodically, resulting in the need for renewed public-health campaigns, experts said.
This could perhaps include steps such as reinstating mask mandates and physical distancing requirements now being relaxed across the country.
“As we are seeing now in the U.K. and parts of Asia, the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron poses a risk for further spikes in transmission in the U.S.,” Dr. David Margolis, the vice president and head of infectious diseases at Brii Biosciences, told Healthline. “We are likely to continue to see a low but steady baseline transmission rate marked by variable surges for many months, if not years to come.”