COVID-19 Cases Are Dropping. Is the Surge Over?

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Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining in the U.S. and worldwide.
  • It’s unclear what is driving the trend, but experts say vaccinations likely play a key role.
  • Experts say to remain cautious of the virus, as the spread of new variants and changing social behaviors could cause another spike, especially among under-vaccinated communities.

COVID-19 cases are falling in the United States and throughout much of the world.

After reaching a peak at the beginning of September, the number of new daily cases in the U.S. has fallen 35%. This is the first sustained drop since the summer, when hospitals in some states reached critical capacity and death toll in the U.S. officially surpassed that of the 1918 flu pandemic.

Other countries are also seeing a slight reprieve. The World Health Organization recorded 9% fewer cases globally compared to last week. All regions of the world saw a decline in cases except for Europe.

While the trends seem positive, the true course of the pandemic is unpredictable and people must be realistic about what “the end” of the pandemic looks like, says Laith Abu-Raddad, PhD, professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

“If the end is eliminating the virus altogether from circulation, like smallpox, I don't think we are getting there,” Abu-Raddad tells Verywell. “We will go back to our normal life, but we will have this annoyance that will continue with us, but at lower risk”

A Promising Trend

Last month, researchers advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released nine mathematical models of potential case rate trends through March 2022. The estimates, published in the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, indicate that while there may be a slight uptick in cases, another major surge is unlikely in the coming months.

A dedicated effort to bolster vaccination rates will be crucial for keeping cases and severe outcomes low, says Abu-Raddad. In the U.S., 60 million people remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to serious illness and death.

Pfizer last week asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its vaccine for use by children 5 to 11 years old, a move that would protect 28 million additional Americans. Health officials say they may reach a decision soon after Halloween.  

“Something really, really good is going to come soon, and that is vaccinating children,” Abu-Raddad says. “I think this is going to be critical, because once we’ve filled this gap, it’s going to become harder for the infection to propagate in the population.”

Does This Mean the Pandemic Is Coming to an End?

This is not the first time COVID-19 cases have shown signs of decline. In early January, cases dropped across most of the country after months of increased or sustained case rates. At the time, experts cautioned that variants could drive a new surge. Soon after, the Alpha and Delta variants respectively drove case counts up again.

“I would always be cautious about over interpreting trends of pandemic waves,” Abu-Raddad says.

While case rates look promising nationwide, there are still pockets of the country where illness, hospitalizations, and death remain high. While more than 65% of the total U.S. population now has at least one dose of vaccine, in some states—such as Idaho, Wyoming, and West Virginia—less than half of residents are immunized.

“You know the famous saying, ‘all politics are local?’ I think the same is true about pandemics,” Abu-Raddad adds.

The U.S. trends seem reminiscent of those in other countries, writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. Fueled by the Delta variant, cases in India skyrocketed early this summer. After peaking at more than 2.5 million daily cases in May, rates have steadily declined to over 100,000 daily cases at the end of September.

But not all countries have seen the same pattern. In the United Kingdom, the Delta variant caused a summer spike, but cases have largely stagnated in the late summer and early fall.

With the approach of colder months, people may begin to more regularly gather inside, where COVID-19 can spread more easily.

Plus, as the virus continues to spread, especially in unvaccinated communities, new and more deadly variants may crop up. Delta “came out of left field,” says Syra Madad, DHSc, MSc, senior director for the system-wide special pathogens program office at New York City Health and Hospitals.

“We’re not out of the woods just yet,” Syra tells Verywell in an email. “With the holiday season around the corner, which drives more people together, we may be in for another wintery surge, though we all certainly hope that won’t be the case.”

What This Means For You

There's reason to be optimistic about falling COVID-19 case rates. But experts warn that in areas with low vaccination coverage, many people are still at high risk for serious illness and death from the disease. Being fully vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker.

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.