On Monday, the number of COVID-19 cases in America surpassed 50,000,000. This is yet another sad milestone. While this is very unlikely to be the final time the odometer’s seventh wheel turns over—“50 million” is also known as 50,000,000—there remains some hope that the endless accumulation is at least slowing.
Let’s recall where we were a year ago. The average daily number of cases per day for the past seven days was 218,005, despite the outbreak from the Thanksgiving holiday travel. Over the next weeks, an average of one million cases arrived each four to five days. Yesterday, the rolling average stood at 119,604, barely half of last year’s figure. The color of the bars at the bottom shows that the new infection rate is less than it was twelve months ago. (Tap “Weekly” to see the difference in relief.)
There is a chance the holiday season will fuel the fifth wave of the virus, at least until January. But, it is possible to limit the spread to about half that which was the case a year earlier, so there are some hopes the current spike can be contained.
What’s more, with every passing day the standard measurement of cases per 100,000 people gets less precise as more and more people contract the virus a second time. We can’t avoid double-counting since there are no comprehensive data on how many cases are reinfections. A Minnesota study found that reinfections were common, even though they were relatively rare, from November through December. Early evidence indicates that Omicron may be more effective in evading natural immunity.
Omicron was able to cause an increase in vaccines. But that trend appears to be slowing down. At 60.8% the nation’s rate of complete vaccinations (still stubbornly lower than the low estimate for herd immunity) the current rate is. Despite the fact that the campaign has been running for a year, no signs have emerged of national immunity reaching this point, especially as more people are scheduled to receive recommended booster shots and the first round of vaccinations is over. 2022 may be the year when cases reach 100 million, if there’s not a significant increase in participation. Early research has shown Omicron might cause an explosive rise in new cases.