COVID cases falling, but trouble signs arise as winter looms
Tumbling COVID-19 case counts have some schools around the U.S. considering relaxing their mask rules, but deaths nationally have been ticking up over the past few weeks, some rural hospitals are showing signs of strain, and cold weather is setting in.
The number of new cases nationally has been plummeting since the delta surge peaked in mid-September. The U.S. is averaging about 73,000 new cases per day, dramatically lower than the 173,000 recorded on Sept. 13. And the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 has plummeted by about half to around 47,000 since early September.
In Florida, Miami-Dade County’s mask mandate could be loosened by the end of October if the encouraging numbers continue, and nearby Broward County will discuss relaxing its requirement on Tuesday. The superintendent in metro Atlanta said he will consider waiving mask requirements at individual schools.
A high school outside Boston became the first in Massachusetts to make masks optional after it hit a state vaccination threshold. With about 95% of eligible people at Hopkinton High inoculated, school leaders voted to allow vaccinated students and staff to go maskless for a three-week trial period starting Nov. 1.
Still, there are some troubling indicators, including the onset of cold weather, which sends people indoors, where the virus can more easily spread.
With required mask use reduced in much of the U.S., the University of Washington’s influential COVID-19 forecasting model is predicting increasing infections and hospitalizations in November.
Also, COVID-19 deaths per day have begun to creep back up again after a decline that started in late September. Deaths are running at about 1,700 per day, up from close to 1,500 two weeks ago.
The virus is still striking unvaccinated communities, many of them rural areas in states including North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska and Minnesota. More than 67% of the nation’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, and the Biden administration is getting closer to enacting a workplace vaccine mandate for every business in the country with more than 100 employees.
In Alaska, which has ranked at or near the top in per-capita case rates over the last month, hospitals remain strained, but health care workers are not speaking out the way they had, said Jared Kosin, president and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. A recent debate over masks in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, grew heated, and hospital and public health officials last month reported hostilities toward health care workers related to COVID-19.