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Article written by Dr. Daliah.

Good news pervaded this week’s medical headlines as officials reported an overall drop in new cases of COVID by 47%.

Some parts of the US saw average daily cases fall even more. Yet death rates continue to climb and hospitalizations remain steady.

So what may account for the “drop in cases”?

Well, firstly a COVID “case” means a person tested positive for COVID. It could include a hospitalization, mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Hence cases of COVID do not necessarily mean active infection.

Secondly, peak cold, flu and pneumonia season include the December – January months so as we move into February, less “illness” might be diagnosed or prompting people to get tested.

Thirdly, the holidays are over, so travel, parties, and dinners may have dropped considerably during the month of January, decreasing COVID transmission.

Fourthly, the “light at the end of the tunnel” phenomenon may be at play where people witness the vaccine rollout and optimism by officials that they decide to bunker down for “a few more weeks” as they hope February and March bring good news as it pertains to lifting lockdown restrictions.

Finally, “case” counts depend on numbers of people testing. If less people test, less cases could be counted. According to OurWorldData, testing began to slow down comparing the below two time periods.

Why would less people get tested?

A drop in tests could include any of the following:

  • Fewer people are working so less employers are requiring testing for return to work
  • With the holidays over, fewer people are traveling and needing to know their status before they visit family members
  • Those who had COVID previously and begin to feel new cold-like symptoms may hesitate on retesting if they feel they can’t get COVID twice
  • Contacts of those who had been contacted by contact tracers may be urging others to not “rat them out” again so they could continue working and avoid another 2 week quarantine
  • Likewise, those who have lost time of work and do not want to lose any more pay may avoid testing if they begin to have minor symptoms
  • Many people dislike the nasal pharyngeal swab and refuse to be tested again

Could the drop in cases be due to the vaccination rollout?

Close to 30 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine or 8-9% of the population. Yet only approximately 4 million of the US population have received both doses, hence have a 95% chance of “immunity” two weeks after the second dose.

Second dose vaccine roll out began a few weeks ago, hence it is still too soon to credit the drop in cases to the vaccines. Moreover, the COVID vaccine has not been definitively proven yet to prevent COVID positivity and transmission, and some individuals who have been vaccinated have tested positive for the virus, as seen with Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-MA.

Will cases go back up?

With Super Bowl Sunday parties and Valentine’s Day, exposures may rise, so there might be an uptick in cases. And with the CDC urging COVID testing prior to air travel, cases may rise as there will be a push for more people to test as we come into the high-travel Spring Break season.

However, as the vaccine rollout continues to inoculate millions of Americans each week, hopefully the curve will flatten and case counts will return to dropping.

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN and is a Board Certified Family Physician

@DrDaliah