For now, the United States is gently treading the water with transformed COVID-19

The rapidly changing coronavirus has kicked off the summer in the United States with lots of infections, but relatively few deaths compared to its previous incarnations.

COVID-19 still kills hundreds of Americans every day, but is nowhere near as dangerous as it was last fall and winter.

“It’s going to be a great summer and we deserve this break,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

With more Americans protected from serious illness through vaccination and infection, COVID-19 has turned – at least for now – into an unpleasant, inconvenient nuisance for many.

“It’s feeling cautiously good right now,” said Dr. Dan Kaul, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. “For the first time I can remember, pretty much since it started, we have no (COVID-19) patients in the intensive care unit.”

As the nation marks the fourth of July, the average number of daily deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States fluctuates around 360. Last year, during a similar summer break, it was around 228 in early July. It remains the lowest threshold for daily deaths in the United States since March 2020, when the virus first began its U.S. spread.

But there were far fewer reported cases at this time last year – fewer than 20,000 a day. Now it’s around 109,000 – and probably a minority, as home tests are not routinely reported.

Today, in the third year of the pandemic, it is easy to feel confused about the mixed picture: Recurrent infections are more and more likelyand a significant proportion of those infected will face the persistent symptoms of prolonged COVID-19.

Yet the sharp danger of death is diminished for many people.

“And that’s because we’re now at a time when everyone’s immune system has seen either the virus or the vaccine two or three times now,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Over time, the body does not learn to overreact when it sees this virus.”

“What we’re seeing is that people are getting less and less sick on average,” Dowdy said.

As many as 8 out of 10 people in the United States have been infected at least once, according to an influential model.

The death rate for COVID-19 has been a moving target, but has recently dropped to within the range of an average flu season, according to data analyzed by Arizona State University health industry researcher Mara Aspinall.

In the beginning, some people said that coronavirus was no more deadly than the flu, “and for a long time it was not true,” Aspinall said. Back then, people had no immunity. The treatments were experimental. Vaccines did not exist.

Now, Aspinall said, the built-up immunity has driven the death rate down to solid within a typical flu season. Over the past decade, the death rate from influenza was around 5% to 13% of inpatients.

Big differences distinguish flu from COVID-19: The behavior of the corona virus continues to surprise health experts, and it is still unclear whether it will fall into a flu-like seasonal pattern.

Last summer – when vaccinations first became widely available in the United States – was followed by the delta rise and then the arrival of the omicron, which killed 2,600 Americans a day at its peak in February last year.

Experts agree that a new variant could emerge that could escape the built-up immunity of the population. And the rapidly spreading omicron subtypes BA.4 and BA.5 may also contribute to a change in death rates.

“We thought we understood it until these new sub-variants emerged,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a specialist in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

It would be wise, he said, to assume that a new variant would come and hit the nation later in the summer.

“And then another late fall-winter wave,” Hotez said.

In the coming weeks, deaths could rise in many states, but the United States as a whole is likely to see deaths fall slightly, said Nicholas Reich, who collects coronavirus forecasts for the COVID-19 Forecast Hub in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have seen COVID admissions rise to about 5,000 new admissions every day from just over 1,000 in early April. But deaths from COVID have only increased slightly in the same period,” said Reich, a professor of biostatistics at the University. of Massachusetts Amherst.

Unvaccinated humans have a six-fold higher risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to humans with at least one primary series of shots, the CDC estimated based on available April data.

Consider this summer your own vulnerability and those around you, especially in large gatherings as the virus is spreading so fast, Dowdy said.

“There are still people who are very vulnerable,” he said.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.