The number of people in the United States, who are testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus or are being counted as coronavirus cases, as well as hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID-19 symptoms, has been steadily declining since the end of April 2021. According to a CNBS analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, as of May 1, seven-day daily average of new SARS-CoV-2 infections had fallen below 50,000—down 17 percent from the previous week.1 2 3
An analysis by Reuters of state and county data for the week ending on Apr. 25 found that new SARS-CoV-2 infections had dropped by 16 percent in the previous week to a daily average of 58,429, compared to the nearly 70,000 new daily cases of the virus reported during the week ending on Apr. 18, and 70,040 new daily cases during the week ending Apr. 12.4 5
In March, the average number of new daily SARS-CoV-2 infections had grown from a low of 38,000 new daily cases for the week ending on Mar. 14 to more than 50,000 daily cases toward the end of the month. At that time, there was concern by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials that the growth in average new daily infections may be leading to a “fourth surge” of the virus in the U.S. During a White House virtual briefing on Mar. 29, the CDC’s director, Rochelle Walensky, MD, warned Americans about the “uptick in cases” at the time.6 7 8 She said:
When I first started at CDC about two months ago, I made a promise to you, I would tell you the truth, even if it was not the news we wanted to hear. Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth and I have to hope and trust you. Listen, I’m going to pause here. I’m going to lose the script and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope. But right now, I’m scared.8
CDC Changes How It Counts “Breakthrough Cases” and Lowers Cycle Threshold for PCR Tests
Sometime between mid- to late-April, the CDC issued new guidance titled “COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Case Investigation and Reporting.” The guidance was intended to notify the public that during the “coming weeks,” the CDC would “transition from monitoring all reported vaccine breakthrough cases (cases of fully vaccinated people coming down with COVID-19) to focus on identifying and investigating only vaccine breakthrough infections that resulted in hospitalization or death.” Health officials said the “shift” would ” help maximize the quality of the data collected on cases of greatest clinical and public health importance.”9 10
The guidance also notified laboratories that, in conducting RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests, they should reduce the magnification cycle threshold (CT) for detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus to 28 or less, as opposed to the internationally accepted cut-off for CT value of between 35-40. According to the guidance, “Clinical specimens for sequencing should have an RT-PCR Ct value ≤28.”
The CT refers to the number of times a sample is amplified by a PCR machine, or thermocycler, to get a result. By reducing the magnification threshold, many people who may have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus under higher magnification thresholds would now test negative.11 12 13 14
It has been estimated, for example, that up to 90 percent of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 at a CT of 40 would have tested negative had the CT been reduced to 30.15
CDC Guidance Coincides With Decline in Coronavirus Cases
Since the CDC issued its new guidance in April, the average number of new daily cases of SARS-CoV-2 has plummeted. By mid-May the seven-day average of new daily cases had dropped to 32,000—the lowest amount since late-June 2020, leading to pronouncements by “health experts” that the lower numbers were “proof that vaccines work.” By May 29, the number was down to nearly 21,000 and down further to 14,315 by June 12.16 17 18
There is a growing sense that the three experimental COVID-19 shots (developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna/NIAID and Johnson & Johnson) being used in the U.S. are working and that that is the reason the SARS-CoV-2 cases are have declined so dramatically during the past two months—that that is why “life in the U.S. looks increasingly normal” and “we can now return to life as we know it.” A recent article by the Associated Press features a headline that reads ‘”A summer of freedom’: Vaccine gives new meaning to July 4th.”19 20
It is logical to ask this question about the falling number of lab diagnosed COVID-19 cases: “Is it possible that the CDC’s guidance may have had something to with it?”
Might it also have something to do with the simple fact that fewer Americans are getting tested for SARS-CoV-2? A recent in article in The Wall Street Journal noted that, according to the CDC, laboratories around the country processed a daily average of just over 677,000 tests for the virus during the week ending on June 3, compared to more than 1 million last winter.
The good news is that the percentage of tests coming back positive has decreased to 2 percent (at least partly due to CDC guidance to lower the cycle threshold to 28 or less), compared to 13 percent during the winter. But that still represents a daily average of 13,540 positive tests during the week prior to June 3, versus a daily average of about 260,000 positive tests during the winter.21
The latest downtrend in SARS-CoV-2 infections may be more a simple case of smoke and mirrors than anything else and the belief that the COVID shots are responsible for the marked decline in infections may be unfounded.
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1 Crist C. U.S. COVID-19 Cases Drop as Spring Wave Slows. WebMD May 4, 2021.
2 Higgins T. Covid cases fall sharply in U.S., Gottlieb calls vaccination campaign ‘monumental achievement’. CNBC May 2, 2021.
3 Soucheray S. US sees COVID-19 cases decline, travel increase. CIDRAP May 3, 2021.
4 Reuters. New U.S. COVID cases fall sharply last week, deaths lowest since October. Apr. 26, 2021.
5 Reuters. New U.S. COVID cases fall 0.4% last week, after rising for four weeks. Apr. 19, 2021.
6 Williams A. 7-day average of daily COVID-19 cases in US above 70,000 as states reopen, life resumes amid ongoing pandemic. Fox 10 Phoenix Apr. 13, 2021.
7 Fernandez M. “I’m scared”: CDC director warns of “impending doom” of 4th wave as COVID cases increase. Axios Mar. 29, 2021.
8 Wade P. ‘Right Now I’m Scared’: CDC Director Expresses ‘Recurring Feeling of Impending Doom’ as U.S. Surpasses 30M Covid Cases. Rolling Stone Mar. 29, 2021.
9 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Case Investigation and Reporting.
10 Cáceres M. CDC Intentionally Undercounting COVID-19 “Breakthrough Cases” in Vaccinated Persons. The Vaccine Reaction May 23, 2021.
11 CDC. COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough case investigation: Information for public health, clinical, and reference laboratories.
12 Redshaw M. CDC changes rules for counting breakthrough cases, as more fully vaccinated people test positive. Life Site May 10, 2021.
13 Cáceres B. Coronavirus Cases Plummet When PCR Tests Are Adjusted. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 29, 2020.
14 Cáceres M. WHO Issues New Guidance for Determining PCR Test Results. The Vaccine Reaction Feb. 21, 2021.
15 Madavilli A. Your Coronavirus Test Is Positive. Maybe It Shouldn’t Be. The New York Times Apr. 14, 2021.
16 Rattner N. Covid cases dropping by 5% or more in nearly every U.S. state, vaccinations continue to fall. CNBC May 18, 2021.
17 News 12 Staff. Medical experts: Continuing drop in COVID-19 cases, deaths show that vaccines are working. News 12 Westchester May 20, 2021.
18 Associated Press. Covid cases fall across US but experts warn of dangers of vaccine hesitancy. The Guardian June 13, 2021.
19 Aleshire P. COVID vaccines driving down U.S. cases. Payson Roundup June 15, 2021.
20 Miller Z. ‘A summer of freedom’: Vaccine gives new meaning to July 4th. Associated Press June 15, 2021.
21 Abbott B. Positive Covid-19 Tests Fall to Lowest Recorded Rate. The Wall Street Journal June 13, 2021.