For now, wary US is walking on water with transformed COVID-19

The rapidly evolving coronavirus kicked off the summer in the United States with many infections but relatively few deaths compared to its previous incarnations.

COVID-19 is still killing hundreds of Americans every day, but isn’t as dangerous as it was last fall and winter.

“It’s going to be a good summer and we deserve this break,” said Ali Mokdad, science 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 — for now at least — into an unpleasant and inconvenient nuisance for many.

“It’s been cautiously good right now,” said Dr. Dan Kaul, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. “For the first time that I can remember, pretty much from the start, we have no (COVID-19) patients in intensive care.”

As the nation marks July 4, the average number of daily COVID-19 deaths in the United States hovers around 360. Last year, during a similar summer lull, it was around 228 in early July. . This remains the lowest threshold of daily deaths in the United States since March 2020, when the virus began its spread in the United States.

But there were far fewer reported cases at this time last year – less than 20,000 a day. Now it’s around 109,000 – and likely an undercount as home testing is not consistently reported.

Now, in the third year of the pandemic, it’s easy to get confused by the mixed picture: repeat infections are increasingly likelyand a significant portion of those infected will experience persistent symptoms of a long period of COVID-19.

Yet the danger of death has diminished for many people.

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

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

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

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

At first, some people said the coronavirus was no more deadly than the flu, “and for a long time that wasn’t 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 brought the death rate down solidly into the range of a typical flu season. Over the past decade, the death rate for influenza has been around 5% to 13% of those hospitalized.

Big differences separate influenza from COVID-19: The behavior of the coronavirus continues to surprise health experts and it remains unclear whether it will settle into a seasonal flu-like pattern.

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

Experts agree that a new variant may emerge capable of evading the accumulated immunity of the population. And the fast-spreading omicron subtypes BA.4 and BA.5 could also contribute to a change in the number of deaths.

“We thought we had it figured out until these new subvariants came out,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

It would be wise, he said, to assume that a new variant will arrive and hit the country later this summer.

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

Over the next few weeks, deaths may increase slightly in many states, but the United States as a whole should see deaths decrease slightly, said Nicholas Reich, who aggregates coronavirus projections for the COVID-19 Forecast Hub in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Unvaccinated people have a six times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to people with at least a first round of vaccines, the CDC estimated based on available data from April.

This summer, consider your own vulnerability and that of those around you, especially in large gatherings because the virus is spreading so quickly, Dowdy said.

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

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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