The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has dropped sharply in three weeks, but experts wonder if Americans will have the discipline to continue with barrier gestures until the epidemic is truly under control.
• Read also: All developments in the COVID-19 pandemic
After peaking at more than 70,000 new cases per day in July, the country recorded 43,000 cases on Thursday. Hospitalizations have fallen by a third since the peak, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and the death toll, stable at a thousand a day since the end of July, should logically start to decline.
“I hope next week we start to see a reduction” in mortality, Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) director Robert Redfield said Thursday in an online conversation with the Jama medical journal.
The country is not out of the woods, however. The incidence rate (number of new cases reported to the population) remains three times that observed in France or Mexico. And the American average hides huge regional disparities.
“We are starting to turn the tide in what I call the Southern epidemic,” said Robert Redfield. “But there are worrying signals,” he said, pointing to the central Midwest region where numbers are stagnating instead of falling.
“The Midwest is stuck right now,” warned Robert Redfield.
“We are not doomed to a third wave in the center,” he then implored.
The fear of the health authorities is a repetition of the disaster scenario of spring: pressed by Donald Trump, many southern and western states which had only been slightly affected during the first wave of February-March-April have deconfined before reducing the incidence to a low level, which led to the huge rebound in June and July.
Back to School
However, in the center and the south, many schools and universities have taken the gamble of recalling pupils and students in class.
Alabama will reopen all of its campuses, but will first test all students. Elsewhere, the major universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Notre Dame have gone back to virtual after their startings last week, due to outbreaks of contagion in student residences.
For schools, colleges and high schools, most large cities (Washington, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles …) have opted for a 100% virtual start, but in rural areas, multiple homes have broken out where students came back to class.
Donald Trump is in favor of a full reopening and a return to normalcy, but the federal government is letting local authorities assess the risks themselves. No epidemic criteria have been set at the national level.
“You really have to think twice before bringing the children back to school” in the “red” areas of the government (incidence greater than 100 cases / week per 100,000 inhabitants), warned Anthony Fauci, expert in infectious diseases government, in an exchange with George Washington University.
“We must take into account the level of disease in the surrounding area,” also insists Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, and close the establishments if necessary.
Mr. Fauci tirelessly warns against a further relaxation of barrier gestures that have clearly proven their worth from New York to Phoenix.
“We have the power, even before a vaccine arrives, to control this epidemic if we follow public health principles,” says the infectious disease specialist. “I would love to see all of the United States move in the same direction.”
Patience is required: even if a vaccine were available in early 2021, the “return to normal” will take months, the time to vaccinate the population and achieve herd immunity. Ezekiel Emanuel of the University of Pennsylvania estimates it will be November 2021 or January 2022.