Public Health Weekly

Best of Times, Worst of Times

The latest Covid insights from former CDC Director Tom Frieden

Dr. Tom Frieden
Medium Coronavirus Blog
7 min readFeb 13, 2021

The third U.S. Covid-19 surge is fading fast, but variants — some of which are deeply ominous — are spreading fast. Vaccination is picking up steam, but we’re failing to address equity. And already high levels of pandemic fatigue are increasing. We must hang on for a few more months until most of us are vaccinated.

Rapid decline in reported cases in the United States since massive holiday surge

The fundamental question is whether we’ll have a fourth surge. If we do, it will cost lives, and also increase the risk that more dangerous variants will spread widely.

But first, some good news: there’s been a dramatically fast decline in cases and test positivity rates — a much steeper decline than in either prior surge. You can see it in both case counts, and test positivity — and test positivity is an even more revealing measurement, so the graph below, from Johns Hopkins, is the most encouraging graph I’ve seen in months.

PCR test positivity for SARS-CoV-2 in the United States

The thing about wearing masks, not traveling, and minimizing time spent sharing indoor air with people who are not in our household? They work. It’s how we can win the war against the virus. Any time we let down our defenses, it attacks. When we let down our guard (and masks), we are complicit with our viral enemy.

The calm before the variant storm?

The spike in cases which happened in other countries when variants took hold is scary. The proportion of cases from the B.1.1.7 variant (the “UK variant”) is now doubling in a bit over a week in the U.S., and may soon predominate here. The first known case caused by a Covid variant has also recently been found in a prison, where transmission rates are high.

This is no time for complacency — masks and distancing stop even the more transmissible strains.



Dr. Tom Frieden
Medium Coronavirus Blog

President and CEO, Resolve to Save Lives | Former CDC Director and NYC Health Commissioner | Focused on saving lives.