Speed Reads

Choose Your Own Pandemic

COVID-19 cases and deaths are plunging across the U.S. What's the prognosis for winter?

The latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic, this one fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, has pretty clearly crested. "The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has plunged 57 percent since peaking on Sept. 1," David Leonhardt writes in The New York Times. "Almost as encouraging as the magnitude of the decline is its breadth: Cases have been declining in every region." And "the geographic breadth of the decline does offer reason for optimism," he adds, since previous surges have started regionally and gone national. 

At the same time, "there are some troubling indicators, including the onset of cold weather, which sends people indoors, where the virus can more easily spread," The Associate Press reports. "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," and COVID deaths have already "begun to creep back up" to 1,700 a day, from 1,500 a day two weeks ago. 

The University of Washington's Ali Mokdad suggests policies and behaviors will do a lot to shape the pandemic's trajectory in the U.S. this winter. 

Leonhardt says individuals can also choose their own pandemic, to some extent.

"Forecasting COVID's future is extremely difficult, as we all should know by now, and it's certainly possible that cases will rise again in the coming weeks," he concedes, but the idea that cold weather will lead to a spike in cases doesn't seem "the most likely scenario." Cases are still falling in Canada and densely populated parts of the northern U.S., suggesting that the cause of COVID-19 flare-ups in chilly areas like "Alaska and the Mountain West is probably not the weather; it's the vaccine skepticism," Leonhardt writes. "Idaho is the nation's least vaccinated state, and several other Western states are only slightly ahead of it."

"There is no reason to expect another COVID surge anytime soon, but surges don't always announce themselves in advance," and "despite all the encouraging news, one shadow still hangs over the U.S.: The pandemic does not need to be nearly as bad it is," Leonhardt concludes. The main reason 1,500 Americans are dying each day, especially older and sicker people, is "that millions of Americans have chosen to remain unvaccinated," and "less vaccination means more death."