Milestone: U.S. positivity rate drops to 3.8%, the lowest of the entire pandemic

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

The vaccines work.

We’ve been fluctuating lately between 3.9 and 4.0 percent positivity, oh so close to a new record low. We hit 3.9 percent briefly back in March and made it down to 4.0 percent last June. But we’d never reached 3.8 percent — until today. Although cases are still much higher than they were last summer (when testing was more limited), one can plausibly argue that America’s never been in a better position vis-a-vis COVID than we are at this very moment.

And tomorrow should be better still.

Scientists are watching the vaccination rates and collapsing case curve in Israel and kicking around a theory that rapid declines in transmission may start happening once something like 45 to 50 percent of the population has had their first dose. What percentage of Americans have had their first dose as of today? Why, 44.7 percent, coincidentally. Hmmmm.

We’ll keep an eye on the national case count over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, experts are also closely watching San Francisco, a city of nearly 900,000 people where COVID cases have slowed to a trickle. Thanks to strict lockdowns and diligent precautions among the population, Frisco has had a mild pandemic from the very beginning. But lately their case numbers have dipped into the low double digits. How come?

Over the past seven days, San Francisco, home to more than 870,000 people, recorded an average of only 26 new Covid-19 cases per day. Two-thirds of all adults in San Francisco and almost 60 percent of the greater metro area of 4.7 million have been vaccinated with at least one dose — one of the highest rates in the U.S. Its positive test rate sits at 1.2 percent…

More than 46 percent of people in New York City have received at least one vaccine dose, and cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all steadily declining. Los Angeles County, which less than five months ago was considered the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., recorded no new Covid-19 deaths on Sunday and Monday. Fifty-four percent of residents there have received at least one vaccine dose, and it’s among several counties in California poised to roll back restrictions this week.

Elsewhere in the country, smaller cities such as Albuquerque, New Mexico; Portland, Maine; and San Diego are seeing similarly encouraging progress.

San Fran is already several steps beyond the 45-50 percent threshold. The pandemic may be unofficially over there already, with other major cities like NYC soon to follow.

A funny thing happened on the way to herd immunity, though: Anthony Fauci has suddenly stopped talking about herd immunity. The man who told Americans throughout 2020 that we’d need something like 70 percent of the population immunized to see cases fall dramatically, then admitted to having lied and that the true figure was more like 80 percent, now doesn’t want to dwell on it. “People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” he told the NYT. “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense… I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.” Some doctors are unhappy, viewing herd immunity as an important conceptual goal to help motivate the population.

We know that vaccinating a large part of the population against SARS-CoV-2 can reduce exposure even for people who remain unvaccinated, which is after all the main point of herd immunity…

If fence-sitters climb down and get their shots we can get to community protection. These people are hesitant, not militant; they are mostly caring citizens, many of whom consistently vaccinate themselves against the flu and their children against childhood diseases. They do not differ greatly from people who have already been vaccinated. Effective messages, messengers, incentives, and media can reach them. We need to spend more resources finding these levers and less time sweating over epidemiological details…

Herd immunity has aspirational value to us all. We need a well-informed leadership and a populace that does not give in to COVID-19. The vaccine can still be the showstopper Fauci said it was 13 months ago. Herd immunity is a goal we can achieve this year if we have the will to do so.

I think that’s what Biden was aiming for with yesterday’s announcement — giving people a target, however arbitrary, to keep them thinking about getting vaxxed even as case counts drop and it becomes safer to socialize. If we can just reach 70 percent of the population with their first dose by July 4th, things will be super safe!

But you know what? If we “only” reach 60 or 65 percent, things are going to pretty darn safe anyway.

Even Rochelle Walensky sounds optimistic lately. You know we’re through the looking glass when the CDC is predicting declining cases.