The United States has now surpassed 700,000 COVID-19 deaths just as the surge from the delta variant is starting to slow down and give overwhelmed hospitals some relief.
It took 3 ½ months for the U.S. to go from 600,000 to 700,000 deaths, driven by the variant’s rampant spread through unvaccinated Americans. The U.S reached 500,000 deaths back in February.
America continues to have more COVID-19 deaths than any other country in the world, followed by Brazil with more than 597,000 deaths, and India with more than 448,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.
The grim milestone is especially frustrating to public health leaders and medical professionals on the front lines because vaccines have been available to all eligible Americans for nearly six months. The shots overwhelmingly protect against hospitalizations and death. An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the variant.
“You lose patients from COVID and it should not happen,” said Debi Delapaz, a nurse manager at UF Health Jacksonville who recalled how the hospital was at one point losing eight patients a day to COVID-19 during the summer surge. “This is something that should not happen.”
Despite the rising death toll, there are signs of improvement.
Nationwide, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen to somewhere around 75,000 from over 93,000 in early September. New cases are on the downswing at about 112,000 per day on average, a drop of about one-third over the past 2 1/2 weeks.
Deaths, too, appear to be declining, averaging about 1,900 a day versus more than 2,000 about a week ago.
The easing of the summer surge has been attributed to more mask-wearing and more people getting vaccinated. The decrease in case numbers could also be due to the virus having burned through susceptible people and running out of fuel in some places.
The pharmaceutical company Merck said Friday its experimental pill for people sick with COVID-19 reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half. If it wins authorization from regulators, it will be the first pill for treating COVID-19 — and an important, easy-to-use new weapon in the arsenal against the pandemic.