Even with decreasing numbers, community transmission remains high.By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Coronavirus cases climbed in November and December, and now they’re on the way down, creating some guarded optimism among local doctors.

“The surge that we saw after Thanksgiving up to about around Christmas, we saw close to 400 patients in Allegheny Health Network,” said Dr. Tariq Cheema, a pulmonary critical care doctor at Allegheny Health Network. “We predicted another surge after Christmas and the New Year holiday. We were looking at maybe 600, 700 patients, and that didn’t happen.”

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The number of infections hit an all-time high at 132,00 in early January. In 46 states, cases are now decreasing, relieving some pressure on hospitals.

“As of this morning, our numbers are way down. Probably even less than 50 percent of where they were,” Dr. Cheema says.

Many patients in the hospital now have been there for days or weeks.

“Some people are on ventilators. Some people are on high-flow oxygen. It takes a while for people to get better,” he says.

Deaths will lag behind cases.

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“If you look at the country, the death rate is still going up. We have about 4,000 on average a day,” says Dr. Cheema. “That is a number that you have to look back at about three to four weeks ago when we had the peak. This is what we’re seeing from that peak.”

In three to four weeks, the decline in daily deaths should follow the decline in cases.

The overall downward shift is hard to explain.

“It may just be the natural history of the virus. I think time will tell us exactly what happened here, but this is a welcomed break for us,” Dr. Cheema says.

Even with decreasing numbers, community transmission remains high. People will likely continue to catch the virus for weeks.

“We get a little complacent, we think things are getting better, the mask-wearing, hand washing, we get a little relaxed with that, and then the numbers start going up,” Cheema said.

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Another surge could be ahead with more contagious coronavirus variants taking hold. The vaccines should still be effective against the new variants. Dr. Cheema hopes the case numbers continue to come down, vaccination rates go up, and with that, we won’t see another surge.

Dr. Maria Simbra