More than 1 million Americans have died from COVID-19, but recent data shows that deaths and severe disease are not increasing with the same vigor despite a surge in infections.
The U.S. has reported more than 700,000 new cases in the last week, but experts say totals are likely significantly undercounted as states shutter public testing sites and more Americans use at-home COVID-19 tests.
The number of virus-positive patients currently receiving care in hospitals across the country remains around 30,000 Americans, and on average, more than 4,200 virus-positive Americans are entering the hospital each day.
Although the number of people requiring hospitalization has doubled in the last two months, the total has plateaued in recent weeks, rather than surging significantly as they did in early January, when there were more than 160,000 patients receiving care.
Thus, even with infection rates surging, hospitalization and death rates have not seen a substantial increase, which experts say is likely the result of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots blunting the impact of severe disease.
“What has been remarkable in the latest increase in infections we’re seeing is how steady serious illness and particularly deaths are eight weeks into this,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told The Associated Press late last month. “COVID-19 is no longer the killer that it was even a year ago.”
Approximately 300 COVID-19-related deaths are currently reported each day, and about 1,800 Americans have been reported lost to the virus in the last week.
In the Northeast, which experienced a significant viral surge throughout the spring, there has yet to be a subsequent increase in COVID-19 deaths.
Even with undercounting, death rates are currently nowhere near where they stood at their peak in January 2021, when there were more than 3,400 deaths reported each day, or during the omicron peak in February, when the U.S. was reporting about 2,700 deaths every day.
Although an ABC News analysis of federal data shows that there has been an increase in breakthrough infections and deaths, the unvaccinated still remain at higher risk for severe disease compared to the vaccinated and boosted.
In April, unvaccinated adults were six times more likely to die of COVID-19 compared to vaccinated individuals and, in May, two times more likely to test positive, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Similarly, among Americans over the age of 50, the unvaccinated had a risk of dying that was 42 times higher than people who had been fully vaccinated and double boosted.
Even with encouraging news, health experts stressed that every death is still a tragedy, and Americans must continue to consider ways to protect themselves and the most vulnerable as they learn to live with the virus.
“We cannot allow ourselves to become numb to these numbers,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “There is no acceptable level of deaths from COVID-19 when we have the tools to prevent, detect and treat this disease.”