New U.S. COVID-19 cases hit plateau after steep drops

(Reuters) - The United States reported a 3% decline in new cases of COVID-19 last week, a much smaller drop than in the previous six weeks, and health officials warned that progress against the global pandemic was stalling.

New cases fell as much as 25% in the week ended Feb. 7 and 23% in the week ended Feb. 21, before plateauing last week, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. state and county reports.

The country logged an average of over 68,000 new cases per day for the week ended Feb. 28, with deaths averaging at 2,055 per day. (Open in an external browser to see a related graphic with state-by-state details.)

“I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic. The latest CDC data continue to suggest that recent declines in cases have leveled off at a very high number,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Walensky said she was alarmed by some local governments rolling back restrictions on masks and social distancing just as more infectious variants of the virus are spreading. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said.

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Twenty-nine out of 50 states reported more new infections last week compared to the previous seven days, whereas only seven states in the prior week reported weekly increases, according to the Reuters analysis.

New York had the highest number of new cases per 100,000 residents last week, followed by New Jersey and South Carolina.

As of Sunday, 15% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 7.5% has received two doses, according to the CDC. The country administered an average of 1.6 million shots per day last week.

Deaths linked to COVID-19 rose 5.5% in the week ended Feb. 28 to 14,387. Cumulatively, over 513,000 people have died from the virus in the United States, or one in every 636 residents.

The average number of COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals fell 15% to 52,000 last week, the lowest since early November, according to a Reuters tally.

Graphic by Chris Canipe, writing by Lisa Shumaker, editing by Tiffany Wu