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US COVID hospitalizations, new cases drop to lowest in months

The number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have taken a dramatic turn, but health experts warn virus variants may change that.

The number of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. dropped to its lowest level in nearly three months Tuesday. The U.S. also recorded its first two consecutive days of less than 100,000 new cases since the end of October. But despite that good news, health experts remain concerned more contagious variants of the virus may reverse the trend as Americans await their chance at a vaccine.

The COVID Tracking Project reported 79,179 people were hospitalized due to the coronavirus Tuesday. That's the first time the number has been below 80,000 since Nov. 18. It's dropped by more than 13,000 in a week.

The number of those in ICU was 16,129, the lowest that number has been since Nov. 20. And 5,216 people were on ventilators Tuesday, the lowest total since just before the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Johns Hopkins University reported less than 90,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. on both Sunday and Monday. It marks the first time since Oct. 30-31 that number has been below 100,000 on consecutive days. The 7-day average, which gives a more accurate look at the trend of new cases, showed an average of 110,853 per day for the week ending Monday. That's down from an average of 170,708 two weeks earlier.

The average number of deaths remains high, however. The 7-day average ending Monday was 2,911, down slightly from 3,159 two weeks earlier.

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CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky reportedly said Monday said that despite the downward trend, virus variants from overseas -- which have arrived in the U.S. and are more contagious -- remain a concern. She urged people to continue following guidelines set months ago, including wearing masks, staying socially distant, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated areas and getting vaccinated as soon as it becomes available.

Officials say a variant from South Africa is more contagious, and evidence is emerging that it may be more virulent; recent studies have also shown it can infect people who have survived the original form of the virus.

There have been more than 27 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic -- more than the next three countries combined. The U.S. total of 468,103 deaths as of Tuesday night is more than double that of the next-closest nation, Brazil with 233,520.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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