The US has reported fewer new Covid-19 cases and fewer people hospitalized than at any time since November, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Fewer than 100,000 new cases were reported on Sunday.
While new data may be incomplete, forecasters expect a decline in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, as the deadliest wave of the pandemic abates.
Nevertheless, experts predict more than 500,000 cumulative deaths by the end of February. A new study, meanwhile, warns that the B117 Covid variant could cause another surge in cases. First identified in the UK, B117 is known to be more contagious than current dominant strains in the US.
“On the road to recovery, we still have a few bumps ahead,” said Dr Ashish K Jha on Twitter, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “A big one is the B117 – the UK variant.”
The dangers of a more contagious strain come as Americans are still struggling to follow basic public health guidelines. In just the most recent example, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl on Sunday night, many fans celebrated without wearing masks.
The potential dangers of the variant were reiterated in a study published at the weekend. Researchers from two genetic research companies sequenced 212 samples from Covid-19 positive patients. The study was not peer-reviewed.
The researchers found the B117 variant to be doubling in roughly over one week, and that it is 35%-45% more transmissible in the US. That level of spread means “the US is on a similar trajectory as other countries where B117 rapidly became the dominant Sars-CoV-2 variant, requiring immediate and decisive action to minimize Covid-19 morbidity and mortality”, the study said.
In a separate study released in January, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted the B117 variant could become dominant by March. At least 690 cases have been identified in 33 states but data is known to be incomplete.
With vaccines still in short supply, the most effective way to reduce the spread of Covid-19 is to use masks, to socially distance and to wash hands.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were expected on Monday to virtually tour a vaccination site in an Arizona NFL stadium which is open 24 hours a day as part of an effort to speed up vaccinations and dampen the spread of the variant. The NFL offered all 30 stadiums as vaccination sites.
Democrats have also proposed an ambitious new $3,000 tax credit for families with children as part of the new Covid-19 relief bill which was beginning its committee stage in Washington on Monday. The Internal Revenue Service would pay families $250 a month under the proposal, with lower payments for families earning more than $150,000 per year.