Feb. 22, 2021 -- The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. has dropped to the lowest level since early November, when an autumn surge caused cases and deaths to rise.
About 56,000 COVID-19 patients were in hospitals across the country on Sunday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Hospitalizations peaked on Jan. 6 with more than 132,000 patients and have fallen for 40 days in a row since mid-January.
On Friday, the number dipped below 60,000 for the first time since Nov. 9. The number of patients in intensive care units also dropped below 12,000 on Sunday, and the number of patients on a ventilator dropped below 4,000 -- both have decreased by half since Jan. 6.
“People are smiling,” Denise Gonzales, MD, the medical director at Presbyterian Rust Medical Center in New Mexico, told The New York Times.
Gonzales has seen in a difference in her staff. The winter surge hit her hospital “twice as bad” as the summer surge, she told the newspaper. But the staff has felt more prepared and knowledgeable about using personal protective equipment and COVID-19 treatments.
“They are optimistic,” she said. “They’re making plans for the future.”
Across the country, only 4.8% of coronavirus tests came back positive during the past week, the COVID Tracking Project reported. That’s the first time the average has dropped below 5% since October, and it’s down from a peak of nearly 14% since the beginning of January.
The 7-day averages of new daily cases and deaths have also been declining for weeks after hitting record highs in mid-January. The 7-day average of cases is about 64,000, which is the lowest since Oct. 23, the COVID Tracking Project tweeted Sunday evening. The 7-day average of daily deaths also fell below 2,000.
The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, and American Nurses Association issued a statement on Sunday that despite the positive trends and signs of hope, the challenges of the pandemic remain ever present.
“Today’s milestone is a grim one -- but one we, as leaders in health care, urge you to recognize,” according to the statement.
In 3 months, the number of Americans who have died from COVID-19 has doubled, they wrote. Overall life expectancy in the U.S. also declined by a year during the first half of 2020, from 78.8 to 77.8 years, according to a new CDC report.
“We urge you to remain vigilant in taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19,” the associations wrote. “With new, more contagious variants of the virus circulating throughout the U.S., now is not the time to let your guard down and scale back on the measures that we know will work to prevent further illness and deaths -- wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands.”