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Why are Coronavirus cases Dropping so Drastically, and What Does That Mean for the Future?

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The short answer is that we don’t know for sure. Experts have a range of explanations for the reasons that coronavirus cases have been dropping in the late-winter of 2021. 

  1. Social distancing measures

Dr. Elizabeth Beatriz, an epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, told Healthline that she attributes it to continued safety precautions like mask wearing, physical distancing, and not attending as many gatherings with others.

Specifically, Americans are now required to wear masks while traveling, and the CDC has also recently published studies demonstrating the increased effectiveness of double masking.

  1. Vaccinations

The first U.S. vaccinations began in December 2020, and accelerated in a big way in the ensuing months. As a result, many people in the highest-risk groups have now been vaccinated, particularly in spaces like nursing homes and assisted-living facilities where many of the fastest-spreading outbreaks have traditionally taken place. This has likely contributed to the drop in cases that has been happening more recently.

  1. Many have already gotten it

Estimates suggest close to 28 million Americans have been actively diagnosed with COVID-19, which means that millions more likely have gotten it too and just had mild or asymptomatic cases. Indeed, experts believe that the people who are at the greatest risk due to behavior or the nature of their job have most likely already been exposed to the virus. If they were exposed and developed antibodies, this means they’re less likely to transmit the virus now. We don’t definitively know how long a person’s immunity lasts, but some studies suggest that it could be at least eight months, if not longer.

  1. Lack of major holidays

Cases may also be dropping due to the simple fact that it would simply be difficult to match the perfect storm of super-spreading events precipitated by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Those holidays combined a lot of factors that help the virus spread, like widespread travel, intergenerational mixing and indoors gatherings with food and drink.

However, it’s also worth putting this “drop” in perspective. As Dr. Beatriz points out, while we’ve had a significant decline in February/March 2021, it is still higher than it was in the height of the pandemic last spring.

In terms of what this all means for the future, many experts are optimistic that growing immunity will mean that fewer people will contract the virus in the coming months, and that warmer temperatures will allow people to socialize in socially-distant ways and not feel tempted to spend time indoors and unmasked. 

With that said, scientists say that it’s too soon to assume that we’re over the hump. Just because cases have been dropping doesn’t mean they will continue to do so – and this is especially true as new virus variants become more prominent around the globe and across the United States.

Jackie Phillips, MD, March 17, 2021