New Covid Cases Plunge 25% or More as Behavior Changes

Lambert here: This article is mostly speculation, albeit from experts. I don’t see any data on behavioral change, or even any anecdotes. I find not knowing what’s going on, out there in the biomass, a little alarming. Couldn’t we at least — and I never thought I’d find myself saying this — put some Frank Luntz-style panels together, given that polling has proven itself so tendentious and untrustworthy? Or sponsor some town halls?

By Christina Jewett, Senior Correspondent with the KHN enterprise team. Originally published at Kaiser Health News.

A dozen states are reporting drops of 25% or more in new covid-19 cases and more than 1,200 counties have seen the same, federal data released Wednesday shows. Experts say the plunge may relate to growing fear of the virus after it reached record-high levels, as well as soaring hopes of getting vaccinated soon.

Nationally, new cases have dropped 21% from the prior week, according to Department of Health and Human Services data, reflecting slightly more than 3,000 counties. Corresponding declines in hospitalization and death may take days or weeks to arrive, and the battle against the deadly virus rages on at record levels in many places.

Health officials, data modeling experts and epidemiologists agreed it’s too early to see a bump from the vaccine rollout that started with health care workers in late December and has, in many states, moved on to include older Americans.

Instead, they said, the factors involved are more likely behavior-driven, with people settling back home after the holidays, or reacting to news of hospital beds running out in places like Los Angeles. Others are finding the resolve to wear masks and physically distance with the prospect of a vaccine becoming more immediate.

A single reason is hard to pinpoint, said Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials. She said it may be due in part to people hoping to avoid the new, more contagious variants of the virus, which some experts say appear to be deadlier as well.

She also said so many people got sick in the last surge that more people may be taking precautions: “There’s a better chance you know someone who had it,” Casalotti said.

Eva Lee, a mathematician and engineering professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, works on models predicting covid patterns. She said in an email that the decline reflects the natural course of the virus as it infects a social web of people, exhausts that cluster, dies down and then emerges in new groups.

She also said the national trend, with even steeper drops in California, also reflects restrictions in that state, which included closing indoor dining and a 10 p.m. curfew in hard-hit regions. She said those measures take a few weeks to show up in new-case data.

“It is a very unstable equilibrium at the moment,” Lee wrote in the email. “So any premature celebration would lead to another spike, as we have seen it time and again in the US.”

Four California counties were among the five large U.S. counties seeing the steepest case drops, including Los Angeles County, where new cases declined nearly 40% in the week ending Jan. 25, compared with the week before.

Dr. Karin Michels, chair of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said the lower numbers in L.A. after the virus infected 1 in 8 county residents likely mirror what happened after New York City’s surge: People got very scared and changed their behavior.

“People are beginning to understand we really need to get our act together in L.A., so that helps,” she said. “The big fear [now] is ‘Is it really going in this direction, is it plateauing, or where is it going to go?’ We need to go further down, because it is really high.”

Michels said herd immunity would not explain the declines, since we’re nowhere near the level of 70% of the population having had the disease or been vaccinated. She said the declines may also reflect a drop in testing, as Dodger Stadium has been converted from a mass testing site to a mass vaccination center.

Officials with the California Department of Public Health acknowledged that testing has fallen off, but overall rates of positive covid tests are falling, suggesting the change is real.

New cases also fell significantly in Wyoming, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah, with each state recording at least 30% fewer new cases. Each of those states reported having vaccinated 8% or more of their adult population by Tuesday, putting them among the top 20 states in terms of vaccination rate.

Alaska leads the states currently, at nearly 15%, according to HHS. It’s also logged a new-case drop of 24% in recent days.

Yet experts aren’t willing to say yet that the vaccines are driving cases down.

“Most people in public health don’t think we’ll see the benefit of the vaccine until a few months from now,” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

The number of deaths continues to remain high weeks after high case rates as the virus variably attacks the heart, kidneys, lungs and nervous system. Many patients remain unconscious and on a ventilator for weeks as doctors search for signs of improvement.

The death rate fell by only 5% in the data posted Wednesday, reflecting 21,790 patients who died of the virus Jan. 19-25.

Anxiety about new strains of the virus from the U.K., Brazil and South Africa remains high in Portland’s Multnomah County, Oregon, which saw a drastic 43% new-case decline in recent days.

“The concern is that everything could change,” said Kate Yeiser, spokesperson for the Multnomah County Health Department.

Shoshana Dubnow contributed to this story.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Larry

    If anything I’m seeing my local social network engage in increasingly risky behavior. We rolled back our curfews here in MA on restaurants and many around me look quite busy. I have friends going out to dine indoors every week now. Youth sports have also picked back up with our formerly high risk indoor sports like basketball and football playing, albeit with modifications. Kids and families are getting together I doors here in MA from my observations.

    Part of this is the signals that resumed activities send. A return to normalcy. Also people increasingly view this as a disease of the elderly and infirm. In my slice of MA they can likely do this safely because of our class. Many people in my town can work from home and don’t work in hard manual labor jobs with tight confines like restaurant kitchens.

    So in my neck of the woods I see behavior changing, but not in the direction that would drive down transmission numbers.

  2. ContinuousBagofWords

    It’s the Biden “bump.” I mean, now that the rationalists are in charge, it stands to reason…

    1. campbeln

      Some have considered the timeline concerning…

      Late August
      Experts: US COVID-19 positivity rate high due to ‘too sensitive’ tests
      Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be.

      Mid November
      CDC updates FAQs to include information on cycle threshold values

      Mid January
      Nucleic acid testing (NAT) technologies that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of SARS-CoV-2

      To me, this looks within the bounds of reasonable, however the cycle thresholds have been long known to go from meaningful to useless between the 30-40 cycle range. From the NYT article above:

      Any test with a cycle threshold above 35 is too sensitive, agreed Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. “I’m shocked that people would think that 40 could represent a positive,” she said.
      A more reasonable cutoff would be 30 to 35, she added. Dr. Mina said he would set the figure at 30, or even less. Those changes would mean the amount of genetic material in a patient’s sample would have to be 100-fold to 1,000-fold that of the current standard for the test to return a positive result — at least, one worth acting on.

      However, the MSM has gone to some lengths to obfuscate this by focusing on “the test is a fraud” (which is untrue) rather than looking at the meat of the concern (number of cycles used to determine a positive test)
      Fact check: Inventor of method used to test for COVID-19 didn’t say it can’t be used in virus detection

      Even if the high CT was a mistake from the beginning, there would have been political pressure to wait until January to make the change to reduce the CT in testing, IMHO, leading to the reductions we’re seeing now.

    2. campbeln

      Some have considered the timeline concerning.

      Late August
      Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be.
      Experts: US COVID-19 positivity rate high due to ‘too sensitive’ tests

      Mid November
      CDC updates FAQs to include information on cycle threshold values

      Mid January
      Nucleic acid testing (NAT) technologies that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of SARS-CoV-2

      To me, this all looks within the bounds of reasonable, however the cycle thresholds (CT) have been long known to go from meaningful to useless between the 30-40 cycle range. From the NYT article above:

      One solution would be to adjust the cycle threshold used now to decide that a patient is infected. Most tests set the limit at 40, a few at 37. This means that you are positive for the coronavirus if the test process required up to 40 cycles, or 37, to detect the virus.


      Any test with a cycle threshold above 35 is too sensitive, agreed Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. “I’m shocked that people would think that 40 could represent a positive,” she said.

      A more reasonable cutoff would be 30 to 35, she added. Dr. Mina said he would set the figure at 30, or even less. Those changes would mean the amount of genetic material in a patient’s sample would have to be 100-fold to 1,000-fold that of the current standard for the test to return a positive result — at least, one worth acting on.

      The MSM has gone to some lengths to obfuscate this by focusing on “the test is a fraud” (which is untrue) rather than looking at the meat of the concern (number of cycles used to determine a positive test)
      Fact check: Inventor of method used to test for COVID-19 didn’t say it can’t be used in virus detection

      Even if the high CT was a mistake from the beginning, there would have been political pressure to wait until January to make the change to reduce the CT in testing, IMHO, leading to the reductions we’re seeing now.

  3. QuarterBack

    How can reliable analysis occur with so little quantifiable data on testing numbers and methodologies? These are several different COVID tests with high and varying false positive rates. There is lots of data available on county-by-county break downs of positive results, but I have not seen any similar data on the number and types of tests performed. A more useful metric would be to track the number of positive cases per test performed. Without the number of tests performed and test type, it is very difficult to determine whether the positive counts are result of the number tested, or the accuracy of the tests performed in a given timeframe. A county could appear to be getting much worse simply because the number of tests were increased (amplified by false positives). Similarly, a county could have increasing infections but appear to be trending better by lowering the number of tests administered or switching to a more accurate test.

    1. SAKMAN

      Well. . . I dont mean to be a smart ass here, but influenza does the same thing every year.

      It transmits better, for a variety of reasons known and unknown when it gets cold, and it peaks at the same time of year COVID peaked.

      Further, we know that when it comes to influenza, there is a reduction in transmission due to approaching herd immunity. For example, in LA serosurveys said that 20+% had been infected already in mid October. Since Thanksgiving, because of the crazy numbers and all the other available information, you could speculate that 3-5% of the population has been infected in LA each week. It doesnt take took long from there to get everyone.

      Which is precisely what is going on in my life. Most family memebers, many coworkers, all have had it. In my view there has been no change of behavior. The fact that this disease kills so few has ensured that. How can I know over 100 people that have been infected and no deaths? At least 15 were of 65, and 3 over 80, 1 over 90. No deaths. Who would be scared of that?

      1. Ron D

        I agree with you about L.A. I’ve seen only an upward surge in traffic, and congregating behavior since early last summer. Closing outdoor dining just made people hang out together in makeshift social settings.

      2. Patience is a Virtue

        “No deaths” I would like to add a “yet” to that one.
        Thanks to friends and people around having been knocked out for up to five weeks as well as the links at NC I have come to respect Covid-19 as something that is not necessarily nice to have. Moreover too many unpleasant side-effects make it indeed an unwanted guest in my body. However, the long-term problems scare me the most since we have no clue how many will die in a year or two or five or ten due to long-term effects.

        Would I be of military kind, e.g., I would be horrified having a population that can’t walk the stairs without losing breath. Useless stuff in war.

      3. Cuibono

        that is NOt being a smart ass. that is expressing a basic understanding of epidemic curves. Rule of thumb: what goes up must come down.
        People think the log growth goes on forever until all susceptible are exhausted. It does not work that way.
        Read up on stochastic modelling amongst other things.

      4. Yves Smith

        Because 100% of symptomatic cases show lung damage worse than being a regular smoker, as do 70-80% of asymptomotic cases. Depicting having been infected as a nothingburger is agnotology, a violation of our site Policies.

        In addition, your herd immunity claim is bogus. Experts are debating how long immunity last. Some suggest as little as six months, some say evidence exists for as much as eight months. Some people have been reinfected in four months. And that’s before you get to the new variants.

    2. Yves Smith

      To your point, I spent a few minutes trying to find the % of antigen tests that had been administered, since they are less nasty and give faster results than the PCR but are subject to false positives. Absolutely no indication anyone is tracking this.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    Rates seem to be plunging in most of the northern hemisphere. I suspect a lot of this is just the usual reduction in social mixing post Christmas/New Year. I also think (anecdotally), that a lot of people have been more careful now there is the prospect of a vaccine. I’ve heard a lot of people saying things along the lines of ‘I don’t want to get it before I get the shot’. When people see an exit door, they stay much more focused.

    That said, we’ve been here before, both globally and regionally, where the waves have been seemingly shorter than predicted, with rapid drop offs, but with new surges as soon as we’ve let down our guard. I suspect there are still unknowns about the virus’s behaviour which the modellers still haven’t a grip on.

    The scientists I follow on twitter though seem quite convinced we are going to see further waves through 2021, even with a rapid vaccine roll-out, although with luck the death rates won’t follow. The big unknown for me is whether the vaccines will stop Long Covid. The answer to that I think is a key as to when we will get back to anything approaching normality.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      My suspicion is people are going to start visiting the vaccinated and taking the elderly places because of how many years do they have left anyway.

    2. DJG

      Plutonium Kun: I was going to attribute the drop in cases here in Illinois (and the Great Lakes States) to winter weather. We had snow this week, and overnight, we just got another nine inches of snow.

      But I realize that Eire doesn’t get snow like that, so you may be right that the diminution in social activity after New Year’s Day and 6 January (Epiphany) may be a major cause.

      On the other hand, next Sunday is Superbowl, when football (U.S. style) fans get together to worship bowls of guacamole. I’m wondering if the combination of reopening of restaurants to indoor dining (yes, Illinois is going to give the superspreaders another chance) and Superbowl celebrations will produce a spike.

      Long Covid is growing as an issue. People are now aware of long Covid. Some people are telling me anecdotes about friends and relatives who can’t seem to recover. Long Covid may be what is causing people to be more observant in the U.S. It’s no longer “the same as the flu.”

  5. divadab

    “Michels said herd immunity would not explain the declines, since we’re nowhere near the level of 70% of the population having had the disease or been vaccinated”

    This is a falsehood, not supported by data or well-established methodology. From the article linked below: “The classical formula for calculating a herd immunity threshold is 1—1/R0. With measles, that means 1—1/18, or a threshold of 94 percent. In general, the higher the R0, the higher the threshold required for achieving herd immunity.”

    “While there is still some debate about this, the R0 of the COVID-19 coronavirus without interventions is generally estimated to be between 2.2 and 2.7. If the R0 is below 1, that means the outbreak is abating as fewer and fewer people are infected; if it remains above 1, the epidemic is ongoing. The goal of social distancing practices is to stem the epidemic by driving the R0 of the coronavirus below 1.”

    Using the high estimate, R0 = 2.7, yields a herd immunity threshhold of 63%. Using the low estimate, R0=2. yields a herd immunity threshhold of 50%. Not 70%, which is unsupported, or the 80-90% claimed by the ever-reliable Mr. Fauci. Here’s the article:

    1. Bill Smith

      Israel has vaccinated 55% of their country’s citizens with at least the first shot. Their dailly new cases per million is right with the US which is under 10%of it’s citizens for the first shot.

      No herd immunity seen yet, over there.

    2. Yves Smith

      That unmitigated R0 estimate is low. Close to 3.0 more accurate and some large scale studies have put it as high as 5.4

      Plus what about the more contagious variants?

  6. Mike R.

    Someone needs to look into whether the cycle numbers for PCR testing has been lowered (behind the scenes). I suspected that this would occur at some point, probably after Trump was gone.

    In NC, hospitalizations are trending down slowly, but case numbers much more dramatically.

    Overall, the entire handling of COVID reporting to the public has been abysmal from a simple/statistically meaningful approach. We are a nation of idiots, I’m afraid.

    1. Shonde

      A comment recently on NC alleged PCR cycles had been reduced to 30-35 from 40-45.

      I searched for that comment but was not able to find it.

        1. Aumua

          Yeah it’s always libertarians casting the most doubt on these things. This site and the above quoted are both libertarian outfits.

          But all of the uncertainties about the testing are why I’ve always put more weight on the deaths and/or hospitalization numbers. They’re much harder to mess with, and those number do tend to follow the reported case numbers at least in trend.

      1. Jason

        Adding, I believe Nancy’s quotes were taken from an article on ZH which I am unable to link to here. The article is titled, “FDA Admits PCR Tests Give False Results, Prepares Ground For Biden To “Crush” Casedemic.”

        I include this for informational purposes only, not as an endorsement of the article’s thesis or the source. I imagine the quotes from the NY Times are real, but try clicking on the links in the ZH article for verification and you get caught in a loop.

        1. Aumua

          Yeah I can confirm that if you take (waste) the time to chase down the links therein and see if they actually add up to what is being claimed, well surprise they don’t. Also note that there is nothing here verifying that the CDC has changed its cycle threshold guidelines, only speculation that they might as part of possible scam to make Biden look good. All of this is assumed to be a foregone conclusion of course, and it’s easy to see how otherwise intelligent people could be fooled by the confidence displayed if they were not of a sufficiently skeptical mindset.

          1. ChiGal in Carolina

            Yes, when that comment appeared and Lambert expressed skepticism based on the poor quality of the links, I searched all the heck over on the CDC website, could find no such thing.

            One section is links to scientific literature and in that were several things recommending the threshold be lowered but no endorsement by the CDC of this.

    2. responseTwo

      The Reagan revolution started the ball rolling, telling people government is the problem and government is a bungling inefficient mess. Then Bill finished what Reagan couldn’t with “the era of big government is over”.

      Now what we, the society, need the most is a functioning central government that has compassion for the society as a whole. This is something that is not been in our vocabulary for the last 40 years; don’t talk about it. So, we have become a nation of idiots believing we can all make it on our own as rugged individual idiots.

      The whole thing was a big con.

      1. JBird4049

        I think that we have been given lobotomies, not that we are stupid. Driven insane by the overwhelming propaganda that says fear everything and hate them. The evil them. Whatever the designated them is.

        As for those libertarians, any country, even one two thousand years ago, needs an effective central government to deal with crises or to deal the canals, dams, farmland, and crops as well as the local military. Our earliest civilizations were created to keep people fed using the irrigation system and then protected from the other people who would steal the food; if the government failed, it fell either by revolts or invasion.

        We have the illusion of an effective government because it has been politically expedient to hollow it. The Democratic Party has assisted the Republican Party as it wielded the sledgehammer much like it did with the stimulus “negotiations” last year.

        As Lambert said, Americans use to do things. We put people on the Moon, dug the Panama Canal, and the national highway system. Now we’re a sick job rather.

        But we can do dysfunction and hatred wonderfully.

    3. Pavel

      Any report on Covid case numbers (or death rates, for that matter) that doesn’t take into account the relevant cycle threshold is essentially meaningless IMO. In other words, almost all of them.

      The various “conspiracy theorists” were positing that after Biden was inaugurated the case levels would drop due to changes in the Ct reporting. Hard to know if this is the case but the whole reporting of Covid case numbers has been a shambles.

      In the meantime, eat well, exercise, and maintain a healthy skepticism!

  7. Tom Doak

    Restaurants reopen in Michigan tomorrow, after intense lobbying, so get ready for another spike here. I just don’t think we have the political will to stick it out until everyone is vaccinated. So it will come down to the will of the individual, in the poorest version of libertarianism by default.

    1. Fiery Hunt

      Yeah, California just “lowered” restrictions again on outdoor dining.

      What have we learned, Margaret?


    2. DJG

      Tom Doak: Same here in Illinois. We move on 1 February 2021 to “tier 1 mitigation” in the local techno-jargon, which means restaurants are allowed to reopen.

      In two weeks, officials will be running around asking, “How could numbers of new cases have gone up?”

      I also note that, yesterday, Illinois reported 4,300 new cases. Yes, 4,300. It’s a drop from after Christmas, when there were days over 8,000 and up to 10,000. But 4,300 new cases a day is an epidemic. The first order confining us to quarters went out in mid-March, when the number of cases reported daily was about 32. Yes, 32.

      But, hey, what is a chance to get freedom fries compared to a virus that we are collectively not able to control?

  8. Robert Hahl

    The anecdote I hear most often is: patient feels bad, tests negative, then tests positive later. Family members start showing symptoms while in quarantine but testing is delayed, to give it time to show positive if it’s going to; then the test is never performed because the situation is what it is.

  9. chris

    Yeah, it’s really hard to know where we’re at because the testing hasn’t been good in the US. That makes relying on the metrics to make decisions an exercise in frustration.

  10. Arizona Slim

    Here in Tucson, I’m noticing something in informal conversations. I’ll hear some neighborhood goings-on being described, usually in an indignant tone.

    The punchline? “And they weren’t even wearing MASKS!”

    I can tell you that a year ago at this time, I heard no such thing.

    Further back in time, I can recall less-than-stellar coworkers being described this way: “Oh, he SMOKES!” Or “Whaddya expect? How can she possibly get her work done when she’s outside [in the smoker’s area] so much?”

    Social stigmas are a powerful thing.

    1. albrt

      Here in Maricopa County reported cases are down from about 6000 per day to 3000. That is still ridiculously high, but down is down.

      I have not seen any obvious changes in behavior, except tests are still so hard to get that I imagine most people with mild symptoms wouldn’t bother. I have tried to get tested three times after a possible exposure and the delays were so long there was no point. I would probably only get tested if I were being admitted to the hospital or I wanted to go to Hawaii.

      I would also guess that we may be seeing the first signs of sub-herd immunity among the parts of the community that are least compliant or most at risk. If the easiest targets for the virus become harder then the transmission rate overall should go down.

  11. Phillip Cross

    We haven’t heard about the stats from San Luis Obispo for a while.
    Last year, one of the resident skeptics would regularly update us on how they were hardly effected there.

    I just took a quick look at today’s numbers and saw that almost 40% of the population of SLO had tested positive, and the deaths per million were double that of “stupid” South Dakota!

    Population: 45,110 (2010)
    Cases: 17,605 (39% infected)
    Deaths: 168 (CFR 0.95%)
    Deaths/ 1m pop: 3696

    If this is a pattern you can find across the country, it’s not surprising the spread starting to slow down, with such a greatly reduced susceptible population to infect.

  12. Tom Finn

    Living in rural New Mexico I watched a 200 new cases per day state wide average jump 10 times at the end of the Summer and after the influx of out of staters receded. It was a wonder…
    This report too has me shaking my head. Maybe my conservative friends are right; one of the side effects of this was to get Trump out of office and now it’ll go away or diminish for the US. (Gotta wonder about the rest of the world though.)
    Apologies to those affected by it, but it do look suspicious…

    1. tegnost

      I agree with PK that it’s likely that the first 2 weeks of january are low social contact weeks following the compression of the holiday season with it’s high incidence of contact. I plan to stay vigilant. My worry is that people are yearning for it all to be over and looking forward to normal activities in the summer. Spring fever is right around the corner…

    2. jsn

      My deep bias against assuming operational capabilities for the PTB makes PKs theory at the top seem more realistic.

      The straight line drop in the US numbers since inauguration, however, will likely keep the paranoia juiced in the right wing medial bubbles.

    3. Burritonomics

      We are still running around 150k (known) cases per day, with thousands of deaths per day. We’re not even close to being below the wave 2 peak. Yes, it has gone down now from its predictable holiday peak, and vaccination is just starting to get to the point where it can make a dent.

      In no way, shape, or form has this disease “diminished” or “gone away”. Frankly, that assertion is absurd.

    4. Susan the other

      I witnessed the same jump taking off in September here in Utah. My thoughts now are, How do they estimate the onset of the new variants? Could these mutations have taken off as early as the end of last summer? They were first announced only about a month ago, South African variety, then Brazil, then UK, then everywhere. The recent announcements of variants in Washington state and Oregon, both seem to be afraid of the California virus, which is actually the UK virus, spreading north. I’m thinking this is typical virus behavior. They mutate all on their own and there might be only a few good options for a viable mutation so they all seem like cousins. And along that line of thinking I’m busy convincing myself that these mutations did indeed start last summer and caused the horrific rate of infection throughout the fall. Were all patients tested for their particular variant? I doubt that. And now? Suddenly everything is going back down. Classic bell curve, it seems. So, I’m wondering if the “really bad cold” my daughter caught in Portland just before they headed down here for the winter was actually a variant. She got over it, but she was worried for a few days. When she got here, 2 weeks later, she got tested and was negative; just to be sure she got a second test, also negative. So one question is, could a variant evade the swab test? Which is very prone to error anyway. My point here being that I suspect we have already seen the proverbial “second wave” of this pandemic – just like the pattern of the Spanish flu 100 years ago. Typical virus mutating behavior – no doubt they mutate their brains out trying to keep their own survival booming. Sounds pretty familiar. Just for the record, I think I caught a second round of intestinal covid after they got here – it had some characteristic symptoms like weird nerve pain and chills – but it was much milder than the first beast.

  13. Carolinian

    Michels said herd immunity would not explain the declines, since we’re nowhere near the level of 70% of the population having had the disease or been vaccinated.

    Isn’t that 70 percent a speculative number not proven?

    1. Phillip Cross

      Yes you’re right, it has been shown that the threshold is even higher than 70% by uncontrolled epidemic in Manaus in Brazil!

      “in Manaus, Brazil, a study of blood donors indicated that 76% (95% CI 67–98) of the population had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 by October, 2020 …
      The estimated SARS-CoV-2 attack rate in Manaus would be above the theoretical herd immunity threshold (67%), given a basic case reproduction number (R0) of 3.4
      In this context, the abrupt increase in the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions in Manaus during January, 2021 (3431 in Jan 1–19, 2021, vs 552 in Dec 1–19, 2020) is unexpected and of concern. ”

  14. Medbh

    I realize from a population standpoint we’re nowhere near herd immunity, but I wonder if we could be reaching herd immunity within the higher risk populations? The six people I know who caught covid this fall were all high risk either due to their behavior (ex. socializing without a mask, going to bars) or their employment (ex. nursing). In contrast, I don’t know of anyone who caught covid who followed precautions and was able to work/attend school remotely.

  15. Nancy

    In January, the CDC/WHO lowered the PCR test Cycle Threshold from 40/45 to 35 approx. This should immediately eliminate a huge number of false positives results, aka ‘cases’.
    “The Wadworth Center, a New York State laboratory, analyzed the results of its July tests at the request of the NYT: 794 positive tests with a Ct of 40.
    “With a Ct threshold of 35, approximately half of these PCR tests would no longer be considered positive,” said the NYT.
    “And about 70% would no longer be considered positive with a Ct of 30! “

    And, ‘coincidentally’ at the same time, the NIH removed prohibition on doc’s prescribing Ivermectin etc for Covid, including early and prophylactically. Studies have shown very quick responses to this treatment.

    Now, the question, why wasn’t this broadcast wide and far? Will it be mentioned along with the ‘drop in cases’, that will be ascribed to the ‘gene therapy’ aka ‘vaccines? How obvious does this scam have to be?

    1. Phillip Cross

      “Make shit up, go viral”

      “Yesterday, Andy Swan invented a COVID story and watched it go viral.

      The text he screenshot literally says nothing about false positives, nor does the underlying document. Nevertheless, it got at least 10,875 retweets before being deleted. It was echoed not just by careless COVID cranks like Ethical Skeptic and Kyle Lamb, but by broader conservative media like Julia Hartley-Brewer, David Samadi, Steve Deace, and Some invented even more details out of whole cloth, claiming that WHO recommended a reduced cycled count or even that a specific cycle threshold should be used.

      In this article, I discuss two things (1) why this is nonsense, and (2) how its spread shows we are still living in the QAnon age of viral misinformation.”

        1. Aumua

          I’m curious as to exactly what claims of Nancy’s you agree with, and as to how you believe the links you posted support those claims.

  16. Wmkohler

    The slant of this article is preposterous. As Eva Lee, the mathematician quoted above, explains, “the decline reflects the natural course of the virus as it infects a social web of people, exhausts that cluster, dies down and then emerges in new groups.” And yet, according to the author’s overall bias, the primary explanatory factor in the fall in coronavirus cases is not the typical seasonal patterns exhibited by other coronaviruses and respiratory viruses, but rather conscious human behavioral decisions.

    So, when the flu hits its seasonal peak and cases start to decline, we are supposed to believe that this is something we were doing somehow manually, each and every time, and without these efforts the infection rate would have increased till it matched the proportion of the unvaccinated and the vaccinated-but-still-vulnerable parts of the population, each and every time?

    By far the biggest ideological victory for neoliberals out of this whole crisis is the fact that almost everyone, including very nearly the entirety of the left, has come to accept an “individual responsibility” narrative as the best explanation for the spread of a highly contagious respiratory virus. Who needs M4A, after all, when the most effective weapon against the coronavirus is moral self-righteousness?

    1. Arizona Slim

      Far be it from me to be against a health care program that covers everyone. But, as mentioned many times here on NC, our current form of Medicare is a neoliberal, family blogged-up mess.

      What is needed is a better M4A, not just extending the current mess to all Americans. I’ll leave the commentariat to offer specs on what “better” means in terms of specifics.

      1. ambrit

        Oh, take my word for it, the number one change should be the elimination of the 20% co-pay provision. That provision alone ensures the “need” for secondary insurance to cover the “gap.” Medicine is expensive today. Much more so than a few decades ago. That 20% may have been manageable back in the sixties and seventies but today is a guarantor of medical bankruptcy with just a little ‘bad luck.’
        To my way of thinking, a basic “better M4A” is straight out ‘National Health.’

  17. CaliforniaDan

    I think we are starting to see the early benefits of herd immunity. We have already gotten 15% of the population immune from already having gotten the infection. We have also gotten 1 % of the population in the most exposed jobs inoculated. This combines to be a disproportionately high percentage of people who were most likely to spread it – i.e. people in public facing jobs and people who were not taking good precautions. If this was combined to be the the 16% of the population twice as likely to spread it, it has the effect of reducing spread by possibly 32%.

    Some epidemiologists have argued for inoculation those who are most social and most at risk of spreading the disease first. The actual pattern of infections is doing some of this work for us automatically.

    1. Yves Smith

      There is no evidence of herd immunity. Scientists are debating how long immunity from infection lasts. Large scale regular resamplings of the public in the UK suggest only as little as six months; other scientists argue it might be eight months or longer. But there are multiple documented cases of people being reinfected in as little as three months.

      And that’s before getting to the new variants…

  18. Starry Gordon

    Among the many important things we are ignorant about is the possibility of asymptomatic yet immunizing infection. The reason I mention this is that a friend of mine was tested some months ago and was found to have no COVID-19 viruses but a substantial amount of antibodies, indicating, she says, a defeated infection. She has had no symptoms whatever, and while her personal behavior has been cautious, some of her friends have definitely not. The incidence of low viral load infections could be happening to a lot of people, so that a sort of penumbra of immunity could be spreading out. We don’t know because testing is poor, as is so much else about the fight against the virus.

    1. fajensen

      About 20% of the people tested positive for Covid-19 in Denmark have no symptoms at all. None!

      The Danes now test everyone that works with people on a weekly and they sequence the samples so they have a pretty good handle on what is going on. The more infectious mutant strain is gaining ground.

      I also noticed in Sweden, locally, there was a big change in behaviour right before Christmas: I went to get a haircut and everyone were wearing masks suddenly. The hairdresser explained that they all knew someone who had been really ill with Covid-19 and they knew from their friends who are nurses, that the ICU in Lund was packed to well over capacity only with Covid-19 cases. Then they decided that they didn’t want it!

      It was the same in all the shops – some mental barrier was just broken and Now it is believed possible that Bad Things can also happen in Sweden!

      1. Patrick

        The covid 19 virus burned through care homes in Stockholm back at the start of the pandemic with relentless force. It so ravaged the elderly residents that by April it was publicly acknowledged that Sweden’s healthcare system had failed them. Those infected were offered no treatment other than end of life palliative care. There have been continued resurgences of the virus in care homes as well as unchecked community spread with a subsequent increase in fatalities. This is due to Anders Tegnell’s deeply flawed, utterly misguided herd immunity approach. He set the tone and created a narrative that established the general public’s misperception of the virus. Mitigation measures would be determined and adopted by common consensus. Tegnell referred to other countries stringent lockdowns measures as “mad”. It got to where proponents of herd immunity elsewhere pointed to Sweden as a successful example of that approach, long after it was patently obvious that it was not. To this day he will not admit that he was mistaken.

  19. RC

    Is there some reason the scientists involved can’t do, you know, science? As in investigate instead of pontificate? “More likely”, “may be”, etc.

    If you want people to Trust Science, starting with doing some work might be a good idea. Seems to me having some idea of why the waves behave as they do might be useful. Not that it’s an easy question to answer, but then, coming up with mRNA vaccines wasn’t easy, either.

    1. Patrick

      Bravo. It really frustrates and annoys me to hear some of the recent pronouncements being uttered by healthcare officials in Sweden as the virus surges. Long, convoluted paragraphs expressing nothing other than how challenging the situation is.

  20. Lou anton

    I’ve been surprised that rates have dropped so much after so much travel around Thanksgiving and Christmas (hit over 50% of prior year based on TSA – here). Maybe most airports, with high ceilings and decent ventilation (and not much talking w/others outside family), do a decent job of keeping the virus…well, not at bay, but ‘at normal.’

    Let’s see if we get over the next hump of Super Bowl + Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day coming up just as restaurants are opening up…heck, IDK at this point.

    After that, it’s people’s desire to get a change of scenery during Spring Break.

  21. VietnamVet

    The number of cycles in the PCR test is discussed in this article:

    Increasing the number of cycles only make the test more sensitive. “a positive test indicates that the person is or has been infected with the virus, which qualifies them as a COVID-19 case.” Lowering the number of cycles will find fewer individuals who were already infected with coronavirus, recovered and have remnants of the virus in their systems.

    The false positives are reported to be 0.4 to 0.7%.

    In the USA the pandemic has been so politicized that it got Joe Biden elected President. But the federal government response has been and remains totally incompetent. Vaccine production and distribution are falling apart. Nations at odds over vaccine supplies.

    Coronavirus testing should be focused on finding individuals who are shedding the virus so they can be quarantined at home or in safe facilities and treated for free if ill. PCR testing is completely inadequate for this. The tests are way too slow and too expensive. But it makes money for testing laboratories and clinicians. Daily paper antigen tests are cheap and would work within a functional national public health campaign to eradicate the virus. But they are ignored since they don’t fit into the for-profit healthcare system that has killed 452,279 Americans to date. More have died in one year from COVID-19 than in the four years of WWII (405,399).

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