For the first time during the pandemic, U.S. positivity rate drops below 2%

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Five months ago, in the thick of the winter wave, the share of tests in America that were positive for COVID nearly touched 14 percent. One out of every seven people tested. Today that rate has declined to slightly below one in 50. The virus has never been scarcer in the United States than it is right now.

During the worst of it in January, nearly 138,000 people were hospitalized. As of yesterday we were just north of 20,000. That’s less than half the number who were hospitalized as recently as mid-April, less than two months ago. ER doctors lately have begun tweeting about how unusual it is for them to see a COVID patient nowadays:

Twenty-two states (including D.C.) now have positivity rates of two percent or lower. Nine states, including California and New York, have rates lower than one percent. Normally you’d expect states with huge dense cities to struggle to manage a highly infectious disease like COVID but the fact that blue urban states have higher rates of vaccination means that some Democratic strongholds have driven the virus down to nearly nothing despite their large populations.

Feels like we’re headed for a carefree hot vax summer, doesn’t it? Well, hold on. The UK thought the same thing, as not only have they given out a higher share of first doses of the vaccine than we have, as of two days ago they’ve inched ahead in the share who are fully vaccinated. But thanks to the Indian/Delta B.1.617 variant, it looks like Boris Johnson is going to postpone their grand reopening by another month.

The good news is that cases and hospitalizations from B.1.617 in the UK are concentrated among younger adults who are more likely to survive. The vaccines are working to protect older adults but the young are still vulnerable because they weren’t prioritized for immunization and are more reluctant to get jabbed in light of their age and good health. The bad news is that the trends are what they are:

“A further 7,540 laboratory-confirmed cases were reported Wednesday, the most since late February, while the number of patients in hospitals — another closely watched variable — exceeded 1,000 for the first time since May 12,” Bloomberg reported on the UK’s latest numbers. Unless America has a lot more natural immunity in the population than Britain does, and I can’t see why it would, what’s happening there right now is destined to happen here soon. There’ll be a wave among the unvaccinated. The question is how big and deadly it’ll get.

One more data point via Axios:

Proof that masks work? Nah. It’s a poll, not a study — but a suggestive one. The wrinkle is that people who never wear masks are surely unlikely to take any other precaution so go figure that they’re more prone to getting infected. Even if masks didn’t work at all, the hardcore anti-maskers are the sort who’d be at a crowded bar in the middle of the winter wave instead of isolating at home. Recklessness about masks usually denotes general recklessness, and recklessness leads to bad things.