Early signs that the spread of the coronavirus could ease from record heights in some Midwestern states have sparked cautious optimism among some governors and public health officials, while continuing to be wary of what to expect in the coming weeks.
Officials in Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin reported a slight decrease in new coronavirus cases in the week before Thanksgiving. Covid-19 cases increased rapidly in the fall in the upper Midwest, a precursor to proliferation in much of the United States.
“I want to say it’s a positive direction, but I don’t want to say it’s a victory,” said Christine Petersen, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa.
It is too early to say whether the recent small decline in cases could signal a definitive shift and whether new restrictions or changed behavior could contribute to them, epidemiologists and health officials say.
People may have stayed home more than usual before Thanksgiving, self-quarantined before visiting their families, or traveling for the holidays, some epidemiologists say. New restrictions are also beginning to take effect in these states, although it may be too early to measure their impact. This month, for the first time, governors in North Dakota and Iowa issued a nationwide mask mandate, and Illinois introduced stricter guidelines.
But the start of the festive period is challenging and threatens these potential gains.
“Any moment is key,” said Brenton Nesemeier, a field epidemiologist at the North Dakota Department of Health, “but especially now. “
Although the numbers are slightly lower, they remain close to record heights. With only 3 million people in Iowa, an average of more than 3,000 people test for the coronavirus daily. Illinois records an average of more than 10,000 new cases a day.
The North Dakota Department of Health is cautiously noticing the decline in the number of cases concerned about the current level and the Thanksgiving gatherings. According to Johns Hopkins University, the state reported an average of 1,118 new cases a day last week.
“The burdens we still see on a daily basis are too high to be comfortable,” said Ajay Sethi, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Last week, new infections in Wisconsin averaged more than those recorded in mid-October. However, the numbers also suggest the beginning of a possible plateau in the cases.
“It’s much better to observe this than to go straight up.” Nevertheless, the level of transmission and the number of cases are critically high, ”said Ryan Westergaard, chief physician of the Wisconsin Office of Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday. “The simplest answer to the question is, ‘Are we smoothing the curve? ” no.”
Hospitalizations and deaths, the lagging indicators of the spread of the virus, are likely to continue to increase in the Midwestern states, even if they show signs of further levels or decreases in cases. Among other states, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota reported record-breaking deaths in a single day this week. The influx of coronavirus patients and staff shortages have burdened some hospitals.
“We hope for the best, but we definitely plan for the worst,” said Michael Elliot, chief physician at Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in SD Sioux Falls over the coming weeks.
Sioux Falls has issued a new mandate for residents to wear a mask in a public indoor environment last week. South Dakota is part of a minority of states, does not have a nationwide mask mandate; the South Dakota Medical Association recently issued a statement of support for one of them.
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken, who originally opposed the mandate before the proposed sentence was abolished and, after encouraging the medical community, said he had heard stories of better compliance across the city.
Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season is still a wild card, he said.
“There’s such a feeling in the numbers that we may be near or at the top of the peak,” Mr. TenHaken said, acknowledging the slight decline in cases and hospitalizations. “I couldn’t talk much about it because I don’t want to give false hope to people.”