The U.S. is on track to hit the lowest Covid death rate since the pandemic took hold in America in March 2020.
New COVID-19 deaths may fall as low as 1,500 in a week by early June, according to new predictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That would be the fewest since the week ending in March 29, 2020, just three months after the first U.S. case was identified in Washington.
Already, average daily deaths have fallen to a low seldom seen since coronavirus arrived in the U.S. The seven-day rolling average of fatalities has fallen to about 620, according to a DailyMail.com analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. It hasn’t been that low since July 6.
The trends in Covid numbers, coupled with the CDC forecast indicates that vaccinations are having a big impact in the U.S. despite concerning variants, and that the country may look forward to a more ‘normal’ summer.
Experts are closely watching the rapid rise of ore infectious variants that, they say, could threaten the U.S.’s progress if the downward trend in vaccinations continues as the nation reopens.
Nearly 60 percent of adults have had at least a first dose of Covid vaccine and 45 percent are fully vaccinated. The CDC on Wednesday recommended that children between 12 and 15 get Pfizer’s vaccine, which was authorized by the FDA for the age group earlier this week (despite the fact that children rarely die of COVID-19).
That might help pick up the slowing pace of vaccinations, which has dropped from more than three million shots a day to about two million shots a day, potentially leaving holes in American immunity that might allow more infectious variants to take hold in communities.
B.1.1.7, the coronavirus variant first detected in the UK, is now causing two out of every three COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
This variant is more contagious than older strains of the coronavirus, allowing it to out-compete these other strains and become dominant – especially in some U.S. states with higher case numbers.
The CDC is also now tracking B.1.617, a new variant associated with the recent surge in India. It’s making up less than one percent of U.S. cases now, but this number may quickly grow.
So far, Covid cases are declining in America any way. For the past two days, the seven-day rolling average of new infections has dipped below 40,000 – a first since September.
Still, as variants continue to spread rapidly, U.S. health officials have emphasized the urgency of vaccination. The COVID-19 vaccines already in use work well against the variants.
The CDC predicts a decrease in COVID-19 deaths over the month of May, with weekly fatalities falling as low as 1,500 by early June. Weekly deaths haven’t fallen that low since the week ending in March 29 – just three months after the U.S. identified its first case
B.1.1.7 is now causing two-thirds of cases in the U.S., while other variants are also gaining ground. The variant that emerged in India, B.1.617 is creeping up toward causing 1% of cases
Thus far, the pace of vaccinations seems to be driving cases, hospitalizations and deaths down faster than variants are spreading.
According to the latest CDC predictions, the trend is expected to continue into June.
After the U.S. saw more than 3,000 deaths per day during the peak of the winter surge in January, the CDC now predicts that this number may fall below 300 in the coming weeks.
The agency’s ensemble forecast predicts that newly reported deaths will decrease from 4,800 this week to a minimum of 1,500 in the week ending June 5.
By that same date, total Covid deaths will be between 591,000 and 602,000, according to the forecast. As of Wednesday, 583,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.
This forecast follows recent declines. Covid deaths went from an average of 1,000 per day in late March to 700 per day in April, though the number has stayed relatively steady throughout this month.
The CDC also predicts that deaths will decline in 15 jurisdictions, which include states and territories. Michigan, a site of much concern after its hospitals filled with COVID patients earlier in April, may see its weekly deaths drop from 500 to 200.
A drop in deaths usually follows a drop in cases, and cases are way down right now. Despite fears of a fourth surge, the U.S.’s average daily case count has fallen from 70,000 on April 11 to 38,000 on May 11 – a decline of almost two-fold.
The country has not seen such low case numbers since early September, between the end of the summer surge and the start of the holiday surge.
Public health experts attribute this trend to the coronavirus vaccines. The Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are highly effective – even in the face of new, more contagious variants.
As of May 12, 46 percent of the total U.S. population has had at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC. One in three Americans are fully vaccinated.
The senior population is particularly well-protected by vaccines, as this group was a priority early in the U.S. rollout. So far, 84 percent of Americans over age 65 have had at least one dose and 72 percent are fully vaccinated.
Protecting seniors is key to lowering the COVID death rate, as older adults are more likely to suffer from severe disease and die from the coronavirus.
The vaccination pace has slowed in recent weeks due to falling demand for shots. In mid-April, the U.S. administered over three million doses each day; now, the number is closer to two million.
Some states, cities, and pharmacy chains have made vaccines available on a walk-up basis so that the shots are more easily accessible. If vaccinations continue at the current pace, enough people may still be covered for broad reopenings this summer.
The latest tactic aimed at increasing vaccination rates is to start giving shots to younger children.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was recommended for 12- to 15-year-olds by the an advisory committee to the CDC on Wednesday after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded its emergency authorization on Monday.
CDC head Dr Rochelle Walensky is expected to sign off on the endorsement as early as this afternoon, triggering the rollout of the shot to younger teens in states across the U.S., likely to start on Thursday.
That will expand eligibility for Covid vaccination to some 17 million people who were previously excluded.
It’s up to states whether or not to make At least one state, Georgia already began vaccinating children ages 12-15 on Tuesday. The rest are expected to follow suit, despite hesitation among some experts, parents and politicians who point out that the risk that a child who gets COVID-19 will die of the infection is exceedingly low (about 0.2 percent).
U.S. health officials continue to encourage vaccination for a widening swath of Americans, especially as a protective tool against the new variants that are now widely circulating in the country.
The U.S. identified its first B.1.1.7 case in Colorado in late December. Now, the majority of cases in the country are caused by this more-transmissible variant.
By late April 66 percent of U.S. were caused by B.1.1.7, according to new data from CDC released yesterday. The number represents cases from April 10 to April 24.
The CDC reports variant case numbers with a two-week delay because genomic sequencing, the process of identifying a coronavirus case’s entire molecular identity and matching this with known variants, takes at least a week. As a result, the true share of B.1.1.7 cases in the country is likely even higher than what the CDC now reports.
How did B.1.1.7 go from a couple of cases in December to thousands of cases each day? The variant spreads more easily than older versions of the coronavirus, enabling it to outcompete the strains that were prevalent in the U.S. before this variant arrived.
Studies have estimated B.1.1.7 is between 40 percent and 70 percent more contagious. This has led some experts to describe the variant as almost a ‘second pandemic’ on top of the old-strain coronavirus pandemic, able to cause its own distinct outbreaks.
Michigan has been the state hardest-hit by this ‘second pandemic.’ Three out of four COVID-19 cases in Michigan were caused by this variant in the month of April, driving the state’s recent surge and filling hospitals.
Other states with high B.1.1.7 numbers are Tennessee (80 percent of cases), Georgia (76 percent), Minnesota (75 percent), Texas (71 percent), and Ohio (71 percent).
There may be other B.1.1.7-heavy states not represented in the CDC’s data, though. The agency only reports variant numbers for those states that meet a genomic sequencing target: 300 sequences in four weeks.
23 states are not meeting this target. While the U.S. has significantly ramped up sequencing efforts in recent months, many genetic experts worry that it’s still not enough to keep a close eye on emerging variants.
B.1.1.7 isn’t the only variant concerning U.S. public health officials right now. B.1.617, first identified in India, has been associated with the country’s recent surge, culminating in record-breaking days with over 400,000 new cases.
The CDC and World Health Organization both recently designated B.1.617 as a ‘variant of concern’ because, like B.1.1.7, it’s more contagious. And some common COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, may be less effective for patients infected with this variant. Luckily, vaccines still work against it.
B.1.617 has now been identified in over 40 countries, including the U.S. According to yesterday’s CDC update, it’s causing about 0.7 percent of cases in the country as of April 24.
Another dangerous variant, P.1, has driven rising cases in Brazil and other South American countries. This variant is now causing five percent of cases in the country, according to the CDC. Sequencing expert Trevor Bedford recently wrote on Twitter that ‘it’s clear P.1 has been gaining ground’ in the U.S., with more rapid growth than even B.1.1.7.
Meanwhile, the second-most prevalent variant in the U.S. after B.1.1.7 is now B.1.526, a variant first identified in New York City. It’s causing 14 percent of cases in the country. The CDC classifies B.1.526 as a ‘variant of interest,’ a lower-priority classification than ‘variant of concern.’ Still, it’s more contagious and less responsive to common COVID-19 treatments.
What can you do to protect yourself against these dangerous variants? The same precautions that public health officials have recommended throughout the pandemic apply: wear a mask, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated if the vaccine is available to you.
While the COVID-19 vaccines now in use may not be as effective against some variants as they are against older coronavirus strains, all data show these vaccines are still great at protecting against severe disease and death. America’s vaccination program was key to turning around the recent surge in Michigan and preventing case rises in other parts of the country.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky encouraged vaccination while testifying before a Senate committee on COVID-19 efforts yesterday. ‘We must remain diligent and committed to our surveillance and prevention efforts because the emergent of variants could set us back,’ she said.