A 4th COVID-19 Surge May Be Starting. How Bad Could It Get?

After more than two months of steep declines, coronavirus infections are on the rise again nationally — along with COVID-19 hospitalizations in many states.

In the past seven days, the U.S. reported slightly more than 65,000 new cases per day on average, a jump of 20% from two weeks earlier. Many states have seen even more dramatic growth, as high as 125% in Michigan, according to an NPR analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

And hospitalizations have risen for seven consecutive days in more than a dozen states, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast, according to the University of Minnesota’s COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project.

These signs all point to the growing threat of another significant surge in COVID-19 cases, experts say.

But there’s cautious optimism that it’s not likely to be as devastating as the previous wave, which saw 200,000 or more confirmed cases a day on average for most of December and early January, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

“Thanks to the rapid rollout of vaccines, I don’t think we’ll have a surge that is anything like what we’ve seen before,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Still, any additional deaths at this point are tragedies, given that we have on hand vaccines that could have prevented them.”


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