CHICAGO — New coronavirus cases have started to fall nationally, signaling that the Omicron-fueled spike that has infected tens of millions of Americans, packed hospitals and shattered records has finally begun to relent.
More and more states have passed a peak in new cases in recent days, as glimmers of progress have spread from a handful of eastern cities to much of the country. Through Friday, the country was averaging about 720,000 new cases a day, down from about 807,000 last week. New coronavirus hospital admissions have leveled off.
Even as hopeful data points emerge, the threat has by no means passed. The United States continues to identify far more infections a day than in any prior surge, and some states in the West, South and Great Plains are still seeing sharp increases. Many hospitals are full. And deaths continue to mount, with more than 2,100 announced most days.
But following a month of extraordinary rates of case growth, blocklong lines at testing centers and military deployments to bolster understaffed I.C.U.s, the declining new-case tallies offered a sense of relief to virus-weary Americans, especially in the Northeast and parts of the Upper Midwest, where the trends were most encouraging. After another round of masking up or hunkering down, some were considering what life might look like if conditions continued to improve.
cases in South Africa have fallen 85 percent from their mid-December peak, to about 3,500 cases a day from a high of 23,400, though they remain above the levels seen in the weeks before Omicron took hold.
Scientists said it remained an open question whether Omicron marked the transition of the coronavirus from a pandemic to a less-threatening endemic virus, or whether future surges or variants would introduce a new round of tumult.
“It’s important for people to not be like, ‘Oh, it’s over,’” said Aubree Gordon, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. “It’s not over until we get back down to a lull. We’re not there yet.”
In New York, cases are falling sharply even as deaths continue to increase, with more fatalities being announced each day than at any point since the first months of the pandemic. Around Cleveland and in Washington, D.C., fewer than half as many new infections are being announced each day as in early January. And in Illinois and Maryland, hospitalizations and cases have started to decline.
Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania among those now reporting several days of sustained case declines.
But the progress is not yet universal.