Pandemic data lag, in part, because of the built-in biological delays. It takes time for someone to become infectious upon contracting COVID-19; it takes even longer for a region to boil over with cases. In Los Angeles County, one of the epicenters of the winter surge, cases started to rise on October 21, but they did so only modestly for five weeks before they seemingly exploded on December 1. Cases started to fall again seven weeks later.
Now look at the months to come: Within six weeks, the weather will have improved across large parts of the country. Families will be able to congregate outside again, lessening the temptation of riskier indoor gatherings. The days will lengthen everywhere, meaning that more of the sun’s virus-killing UV rays will reach the Earth’s surface. Most important, more and more Americans will get vaccinated, depriving the virus of susceptible victims.
Which isn’t to say that we’re in the clear: Although the viral trends are encouraging, the level of virus in the country remains horrifying. In many parts of the country, you are more likely to get infected with the virus today than you were during much of last year. “With viruses, what really matters is the population, not the individual,” Andersen said. There is still time for another deadly surge, especially one caused by a more transmissible and more lethal variant of the virus. But—and it’s a crucial but—there just isn’t much time.