“If we don’t get people vaccinated who need to be vaccinated, and we get that conflating with an influenza season,” Fauci said, “we could have a dark, bad winter.”
As the country’s fourth coronavirus wave emerged during the summer and swept across the South, this was the alarm that kept ringing for those of us who live in the North. The case totals the country was seeing (and the eventual death toll) were hitting less-vaccinated places harder, particularly in regions where the summer heat was likely driving people indoors to stay cool in air conditioning. When autumn and winter arrived, was the same danger looming for the North, forced inside for warmth?
By this point last year, the third wave, still the nation’s most damaging, had already begun. On Oct. 21, 2020, more than 60,000 Americans were contracting the virus each day, up from fewer than 50,000 two weeks prior. Now, the daily toll is higher, more than 75,000 — but that’s down from 105,000 two weeks ago. The trend now is very different than the one then.
If we break out the change in cases by state, we see two trends at play. States that were slammed by the delta variant this summer have seen sharp declines in new cases over the past month. States that weren’t hit hard by the fourth wave haven’t see big increases. Compare that with last year. After the third wave began on Sept. 12, many states were already seeing cases rise.
(In some states, data anomalies have been removed.)
In fact, in most of the states that had high case totals over the summer, they are now seeing fewer cases than they did a year ago. That’s not true of most of the Northeast, where cases have been fairly flat for a while. There, case totals remain higher than they were.
As we’ve noted before, there was a correlation between politics and case totals during the fourth wave. The states hit hardest tended to be ones that voted more heavily for former president Donald Trump last year; the counties that saw the most deaths were ones that were more Republican and less-heavily vaccinated. The decline seen in those states, though, has largely left their population-adjusted new-case totals around the same place as Biden-voting states.
For example, there’s been a lot of focus on new case totals in Vermont and New Hampshire, two states that are heavily vaccinated and have done a good job containing the pandemic. In those states, case totals have increased lately, as you can see on Axios’s map of rates of change. While they are toward the top end of per-resident case rates at the moment, they are not exceptionally so.
As a resident of the Northeast — and one who has been eyeballing case totals on a regular basis — I certainly hope that vaccination rates are high enough and personal precautions robust enough to prevent a surge in cases in the region. If for no other reason than that 1,500 people a day are dying of covid-19, a fate that we would all prefer the entire country avoid.
We will see.