Average daily U.S. Covid deaths climb above 2,000 for the first time since March

FAN Editor

Clinicians work on intubating a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital on August 10, 2021 in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

An average of more than 2,000 Americans are once again dying from Covid every day, a grim threshold that the country has not seen in more than six months. 

The seven-day average of reported U.S. Covid deaths stood at 2,031 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While new infections have plateaued, fatalities continue to rise, increasing by 13% from one week ago and 43% from the start of the month. The last time the average daily U.S. death toll was over 2,000 was on March 1. The country was coming down off of a record-setting winter surge in cases and record-high fatalities that averaged 3,426 a day mid-January.

Covid-19 officially became the deadliest outbreak in recent American history on Monday, surpassing the estimated U.S. fatalities from the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Average daily deaths were also over 2,000 at the start of the outbreak in in April of 2020, and limitations in testing at that time mean the nation’s first peak of 2,245 average daily deaths on April 24 of that year could be an undercount.

Reported deaths are currently highest in large U.S. states like Florida, which is seeing an average of 376 daily deaths over the past week, and Texas, which is reporting a daily average of 283. Combined, that makes up about one-third of the nationwide average.

On a population-adjusted basis, Alabama, Florida, and West Virginia are reporting the steepest number of average daily deaths per 100,000 residents.

The rise in the daily death toll comes on the heels of the country’s latest surge in infections, which is showing some signs of easing but remains concerningly high. The U.S. is reporting about 135,000 daily cases over the past week, and while the trend has been obscured for much of the month due to inconsistencies in states’ reporting around the Labor Day holiday, the seven-day average is down 18% from Sept. 1.

Hospitalizations, too, are elevated but on the decline. About 91,500 Americans are currently hospitalized with Covid, according to a seven-day average of data from the Department of Health and Human Services. At the start of the month, that figure was nearly 103,000.

Any change in the trend of reported cases and hospitalizations typically does not show up in the death toll numbers for weeks, as it takes time for people to become infected with the virus and then get sick enough to need urgent care.

“I think that if the curve, if the cases, are going down, the deaths should follow,” said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He added that treatments for Covid have also improved, with better therapies today than existed a year ago.

Despite any encouraging signs in the nationwide trend, the spread of the highly infectious delta variant is still on the rise in some states.

The Ohio Department of Health warned Wednesday that many hospitals in the state are “at, or reaching, peak capacity,” with the increase driven largely by unvaccinated patients. Case counts there are up 33% from the start of the month to an average of 6,771 per day.

Case counts in Alaska and West Virginia are also at or near all-time highs. The average of 857 daily cases in Alaska is a pandemic record for the state, though daily deaths are about the same as on September 1 at two per day. West Virginia, where the 26 deaths per day as of Tuesday represents a 157% increase from the start of the month, has not been spared a rise in the death toll.

Still, infectious disease experts say, outcomes could be even worse if it weren’t for the development of Covid vaccines. 

“If we had no vaccines and we were suffering through this delta, the death rate would be dramatically higher,” said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell Health in New York. “Hundreds of more thousands of people would have died, probably in the millions. And I think that’s what we saw in any countries where delta spread through it quickly without adequate vaccination.”

Nearly 55% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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