For two weeks, COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped steadily from the alarmingly high peak of America’s third wave of the pandemic. Vaccination rates are rising, new vaccines and millions more doses of approved ones are coming online soon, and deaths have dropped dramatically in places where significant numbers of people have been inoculated, especially nursing homes. But “this is not a time to relax,” President Biden said Thursday as he celebrated the country’s 50 million’s vaccination. “We must keep washing our hands, stay socially distanced, and for God’s sake — for God’s sake — wear a mask.”

It turns out, a fourth wave of the pandemic already appears to be building.

But the news is not all so encouraging.

Most worrisome, the number of new cases has stopped declining over the past week. It’s true in the U.S.: pic.twitter.com/CmOUFzLgDb

— David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) February 25, 2021

Cases have leveled out worldwide, too. “The most likely explanation is the more contagious variants of the virus, like the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in Britain,” David Leonhardt writes at The New York Times. Business Insider‘s Jim Edwards points out that the uptick in cases and deaths could be statistical noise, but notes that worrisome new variants have also popped up in California and New York.

Big question: Are the new fast-moving variants (UK, CA, and NY) moving faster than the vaccines?

— Jim Edwards (@Jim_Edwards) February 26, 2021

“Taking into account the counterbalancing rises in both vaccinations and variants, along with the high likelihood that people will stop taking precautions, a fourth wave is highly likely this spring,” Apoorva Mandavilli reports at the Times, citing a majority of 21 experts interviewed on the pandemic. “But they stressed that it is not an inevitable surge, if government officials and individuals maintain precautions for a few more weeks,” and “COVID-19 deaths will most likely never rise quite as precipitously as in the past.”

“The good news,” Mandavilli writes, is that “despite the uncertainties, the experts predict that the last surge will subside in the United States sometime in the early summer. If the Biden administration can keep its promise to immunize every American adult by the end of the summer, the variants should be no match for the vaccines. … For now, every one of us can help by continuing to be careful for just a few more months, until the curve permanently flattens.”

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