Jan. 21, 2022 -- National COVID-19 cases are trending downward this week, an “optimistic trend” after weeks of skyrocketing numbers, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, said at a White House briefing today.

The 7-day daily average of cases is 744,600, a 5% drop from the previous week. Hospital admissions increased by only 1% at 21,000.

“We’re starting to see steep declines in areas that were first peaking, so areas of the Northeast: New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut,” Walensky said. “That also means some areas are higher than they have been before, but overall, nationally, the case numbers are coming down, which I consider an optimistic trend.”

Because infections in various parts of the country began surging at different times, some areas can expect to see rising numbers in the coming days before they likely drop, too, Walensky said.

The dip in cases is a welcome relief after consistent increases during December and most of January, but it is still too early to breathe a sigh of relief, said top infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci, MD.

While the United States may be entering a zone of “adequate control” -- that is, a baseline case level that will no longer be disruptive to daily life -- that isn’t necessarily where we’re we will end up, he said.

“You put together a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario,” Fauci said.

In the worst-case scenario we would be reaching adequate control, “but we’re faced with another surprise, with a variant that’s so different that it alludes the accumulation of immune protection that we’ve gotten from vaccinations and from prior infections,” he said.

Fauci continued, “I hope that doesn’t happen. I can’t give you statistics of what the chances are, but we have to prepare for it. So, we hope for the best, and we prepare for the worst.”

Walensky reported new CDC data on vaccine effectiveness against Omicron -- a topic scientists are still working to understand.

Researchers from one study found vaccine effectiveness against Delta-related emergency room and urgent care visits was 76% 6 months after receiving a second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and 94% following a third shot.

For Omicron, effectiveness in the same scenario was 38% 6 months after the second shot, and 82% after the booster.

A similar pattern was seen for hospital admissions. Two shots were 81% effective in preventing Delta-related admissions and 81% effective for Omicron. Those numbers rose to 94% and 90% with a booster.

“These reports add more evidence to the importance of being up to date with COVID vaccinations,” Walensky said. “That means getting your primary series and getting boosted when eligible to protect against severe COVID-19.”