New coronavirus cases have started to fall nationally, signaling that the omicron-fueled spike that has infected tens of millions of Americans, packed hospitals and shattered records has finally begun to relent.
More and more states have passed a peak in new cases in recent days, as glimmers of progress have spread from a handful of eastern cities to much of the country. Through Friday, the country was averaging about 720,000 new cases a day, down from about 807,000 last week. New coronavirus hospital admissions have leveled off.
Even as hopeful data points emerge, the threat has by no means passed. The United States continues to identify far more infections a day than in any prior surge, and some states in the West, South and Great Plains are still seeing sharp increases. Many hospitals are full. And deaths continue to mount, with more than 2,100 announced most days.
But after a month of extraordinary rates of case growth, blocklong lines at testing centers and military deployments to bolster understaffed intensive care units, the declining new case tallies offered a sense of relief to virus-weary Americans, especially in the Northeast and parts of the Upper Midwest, where the trends were most encouraging.
In states where new cases have started to fall, the declines have so far been swift and steep, largely mirroring the rapid ascents that began in late December.
But the progress is not yet universal.
Reports of new infections continue to grow in North Dakota, which is averaging four times as many cases a day than at the start of January, and in Alabama, where hospitalizations have roughly doubled over the past two weeks. Utah is averaging about 11 times as many cases a day as it was a month ago, and hospitalizations have reached record levels.
Scientists said it remained an open question whether omicron marked the transition of the coronavirus from a pandemic to a less-threatening endemic virus, or whether future surges or variants would introduce a new round of tumult.
“It’s important for people to not be like, ‘Oh, it’s over,’” said Aubree Gordon, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan. “It’s not over until we get back down to a lull. We’re not there yet.”