CHICAGO — New coronavirus cases have begun to fall nationwide, signaling that the Omicron-fueled spike that has infected tens of millions of Americans, filled hospitals and shattered records has finally begun to recede.
More states have passed a peak in new cases in recent days, as glimmers of progress have spread from a handful of eastern cities to much of the country. Through Thursday, the country was averaging around 736,000 new cases a day, down from around 807,000 last week. New coronavirus hospital admissions have leveled off.
Even though promising data points are emerging, the threat has by no means passed. The United States continues to identify far more infections per day than in any previous surge, and some states in the West, South and Great Plains are still seeing steep increases. Many hospitals are full. And the deaths continue to rise, with more than 2,000 announced almost every day.
But after a month of extraordinary rates of case growth, long lines at testing centers and military deployments to bolster understaffed intensive care units, the drop in the number of new cases offered a feeling of relief to virus-weary Americans, especially in the Northeast and parts of the Upper Midwest, where the trends were most encouraging. After another round of masks or retreats, some wondered what life might be like if conditions continued to improve.
“Especially after this wave, the level of exhaustion in New York City cannot be overstated, and the level of numbness is quite significant,” said Mark D. Levine, Borough President of Manhattan. He added: “What we need to do now is not pretend Covid is gone, but manage it to the point that it doesn’t disrupt our lives.”
In states where new cases have started to fall, the declines so far have been quick and steep, largely mirroring the rapid rises that began in late December. These patterns resemble those seen in South Africa, the country whose scientists warned the world about Omicron, and the first place to document a major rise in the variant. New cases in South Africa have fallen 84% from their peak in mid-December, to around 3,700 cases per day from a peak of 23,400, although they remain above levels seen in the weeks prior to Omicron implantation.
The scientists said it remains an open question whether Omicron marks the coronavirus’ transition from a pandemic to a less threatening endemic virus, or whether future surges or variants will usher in a new round of turmoil.
“It’s important for people not to be like, ‘Oh, it’s over,'” said Aubree Gordon, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. We are not there yet.