NEW YORK – While deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. are mounting rapidly, public health experts are seeing a flicker of good news: The second surge of confirmed cases appears to be leveling off.
Scientists aren't celebrating by any means, warning that the trend is driven by four big, hard-hit places – Arizona, California, Florida and Texas – and that cases are rising in close to 30 states in all, with the outbreak's center of gravity seemingly shifting from the Sun Belt toward the Midwest.
Some experts wonder whether the apparent caseload improvements will endure. It's also not clear when deaths will start coming down. COVID-19 deaths do not move in perfect lockstep with the infection curve, for the simple reason that it can take weeks to get sick and die from the virus.
The future? “I think it's very difficult to predict,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's foremost infectious-disease expert.
The virus has claimed over 150,000 lives in the U.S., by far the highest death toll in the world, plus more than a half-million others around the globe.
Over the past week, the average number of deaths per day in the U.S. has climbed more than 25%, from 843 to 1,057. Florida on Thursday reported 253 more deaths, setting its third straight single-day record. The number of confirmed infections nationwide has topped 4.4 million.
Based on a seven-day rolling average, daily cases of the coronavirus in the United States fell from 67,317 on July 22 to 65,266 on Wednesday, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University. That is a decline of about 3%.
Researchers prefer to see two weeks of data pointing in the same direction to say whether a trend is genuine. “But I think it is real, yes,” said Ira Longini, a University of Florida biostatistician who has been tracking the coronavirus and has been a source of disease forecasts used by the government.
The Associated Press found the seven-day rolling average for new cases plateaued over two weeks in California and decreased in Arizona, Florida and Texas.
The trends in Arizona, Texas and Florida are “starting to bend the curve a bit,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins public health researcher. Those states, along with California, have been pouring large numbers of cases each day into the national tally. So when those places make progress, the whole country looks better, she said.
Also, in another possible glimmer of hope, the percentage of tests that are coming back positive for the virus across the U.S. dropped from an average of 8.5% to 7.8% over the past week.
But with the outbreak heating up in the Midwest, Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers ordered that masks be worn statewide because of a spike in cases, joining some 30 other states that have taken such measures.
Fauci said he is “somewhat comforted” by the recent plateau. But 60,000 new cases a day is “still at a very high level.”