First, some good news: for the first time since there’s been national reporting on the number of positive COVID-19 tests, the rate of positive COVID tests has dropped to its lowest recorded rate. That recorded rate? About 2 percent of COVID-19 tests in the U.S. are coming back positive. That’s good news, but there’s a lot more at play than the current low positivity rate. Here’s why there’s more than meets the eye on the positivity rate, why natural immunity is no cure-all for the enduring pandemic, and why everyone should still seek vaccination who hasn’t yet done so.
The Low Positivity Rate, Explained
Compared to the winter surge of 2020 to 2021, in which 13 percent of tests were coming back positive, the total of 2 percent of positive tests is great news, per The Wall Street Journal.
There are several different factors at work here — namely that labs across the United States processed about 677,000 tests in the time the 2 percent positivity rate came back, whereas they were processing some two million during the fall and winter peaks of COVID-19. There could be more, or fewer, cases of COVID-19 depending on testing levels.
Some experts fear that people are getting tested less often when they have mild symptoms because they are less afraid of COVID-19, per the same WSJ story. At the same time, however, the positivity rate has been falling for months, suggesting that vaccines (and natural immunity) could have a major effect on how many people are getting COVID-19.
There’s also the fact that states track their test results in many different ways, so the 2 percent might not be perfectly accurate.
For context, per the WSJ, in early January, when COVID-19 was at its peak, five states had test positivity rates above 40 percent. Now, only three states have positivity rates above 10 percent. So, the news is good, all the same.
Vaccines and Natural Immunity Are at Play
Some 43 percent of people across the country are fully vaccinated, and the percentage of those vaccinated fully across the states varies widely, with some states absolutely crushing it (Vermont, for example) and others lagging behind (Missouri). Cases will likely continue to fall as a result of natural immunity from those who have already gotten COVID but haven’t been vaccinated, as well.
In fact, per WaPo, some experts fear that in states that have low vaccination rates — but are still seeing positive COVID-19 tests and cases decline around the country — that natural COVID-19 immunity may be the cause of the pandemic relief. And because of that, the low cases in some areas could be less of a new reality and more of a temporary reprieve.
One state health officer from Mississippi reportedly told the Washington Post that, in a state where 7,300 residents of the state have died from COVID, that they paid for their COVID-19 immunity “with deaths… we’re now sort of seeing that [effect of lower cases] because we have a combination of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”
But Low Overall Vaccine Rates, And Reliance on Natural Immunity, Could Mean Cases Will Rise Again
And while that’s great for now, it’s possible that the lowest positivity rates we’ve been seeing this month will not be a long-term trend. Dr. Leana Wen, who spoke to The Washington Post, also said that “just because we’re lucky in June doesn’t mean we’ll continue to be lucky come to late fall and winter.”
Indeed, as natural immunity from COVID-19 wanes, as variants that are more transmissible and deadly could overwhelm the United States, and as COVID-19 vaccination rates stall out — President Biden is not likely to meet his national goal of having 70 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine by July 4 — it’s possible that cases could rise again.
(It also appears that while most states that voted Democrat in the 2020 presidential election will reach that 70% single-dose goal, most red states won’t. CNN says that 69.9 percent of adults in the average Biden-won state have gotten one dose; whereas in Trump-won states, only 54.9 percent of adults have received one dose.)
Bottom Line: Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19
That’s why it’s deeply important that as many people can get vaccinated do — and especially those who have already gotten COVID-19 and recovered. While natural immunity against the virus is a beautiful thing, research shows that it does not last as long as the immunity one gets from a COVID-19 vaccination. Lasting immunity from the virus and variants that will continue to proliferate will help keep case numbers low as the seasons change.