The bands are definitely not dead, even in the sun activity minimum. Why does it need a contest to bring them alive? Receiving many stations with 9+ on 15m and 10m bands. But only in contest. Why not call on those bands between contests? They do work, even now!
Maybe somethings happen with the Hams, they do look at the spectrum, don’t see anything, and then they don’t call CQ, because there is no CQ ;)
Seems to be a vicious circle, which can only be interrupted by calling CQ.