New coronavirus cases in the U.S. have fallen to pre-Thanksgiving levels, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday, and infection rates are continuing to decline.
"We now appear to be in a consistent downward trajectory" for both cases and hospital admissions, CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Watch live: White House COVID-19 response team holds briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows MORE told reporters during a White House COVID-19 briefing.
Cases have declined since hitting a peak on Jan. 8, dropping 13.4 percent to an average of nearly 144,000 per day from Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, Walensky said.
Deaths are continuing to increase, but the pace is slowing. Fatalities are a lagging indicator, so it will take time before they reflect the lower infection and hospitalization rates.
"The recent decline in hospitalizations gives us hope that the number of deaths should start to decrease in the coming weeks," Walensky said.
The decreasing number of infections has led states and cities to begin rolling back some of the restrictions that have been in place since before the December holiday period, such as prohibitions on indoor dining.
Despite the relatively positive news, infection numbers are still twice as high as the peak number of cases over the summer, and the U.S. is still averaging more than 3,000 deaths a day.
Walensky cautioned Americans not to let their guard down, especially as variants that likely have increased transmissibility continue to multiply.
Experts say the best way to prevent the spread of the variants is for people to follow basic public health precautions like avoiding large crowds, wearing masks and physically distancing, as well as getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
Walensky specifically warned against people gathering indoors in large groups for Super Bowl parties this weekend, saying that people should instead gather virtually or with immediate household members.