It’s the headline millions have been waiting for during the past year and now it’s been published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in its Feb. 10 edition.

Newly reported cases of Covid-19 have dropped 56% over the past month, based on a seven-day average, marking a significantly steeper fall than the US saw after the spring and summer surges.

Hospitalizations have declined 38% since Jan. 6. The seven-day average of Covid-19 tests returning positive fell over the past week to 6.93%, the lowest since Oct. 31.

Unlike earlier moments in the pandemic, case counts are heading lower amid a mass-inoculation effort.

But even such a steep decline, cases and hospitalizations remain higher than earlier surges, deaths continue to hover near records and the rise of more contagious variants could quickly worsen the spread.

“The concern right now is that while we’re seeing a decline in cases from the holiday surges as we identify more transmission of the variants within the US, this could lead to another surge,” Saskia Popescu, an assistant professor at the Shar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said.

For public officials, managing the pandemic has long been a balancing act.

“I do think that we should be easing back on some restrictions because there are serious social consequences of restrictions themselves,” Thomas Farley, Philadelphia’s health commissioner, said. “However, I do worry that too many changes happening too quickly may encourage people to let down their guard, and that may make the virus surge again.”

The Super Bowl celebration, which Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of California-Los Angeles, said might have acted as a “nationwide super-spreader event.”

Vaccine makers are racing to create new shots that can better protect against new strains.

The decisions people make now about things like social interactions and indoor dining could determine whether this current decline in cases continues, or whether the US risks prolonging the hardships people are eager to put behind them, said Samuel Scarpino, who directs Northeastern University’s Emergent Epidemic Lab.

Hospitalizations have also been easing for weeks. Although still higher than at the height of the summer surge, hospitalizations have decreased by 38%.

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