The highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus drives the daily death toll in the United States higher than last fall’s delta wave
Omicron, the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus sweeping the country, is driving the daily death toll in the United States higher than last fall’s delta wave, with deaths likely to continue to rise for days or even years. weeks.
The seven-day rolling average of new daily COVID-19 deaths in the United States has risen since mid-November, hitting 2,267 on Thursday and surpassing a September peak of 2,100 when delta was the dominant variant.
Today, omicron is estimated to account for almost all of the viruses circulating in the country. And while it causes less severe disease for most people, the fact that it is more transmissible means more people are getting sick and dying.
“Omicron will push us to over a million deaths,” said Andrew Noymer, professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine. “It will cause a lot of soul-searching. There will be a lot of talk about what we could have done differently, how many deaths could have been avoided. »
Symptoms from Omicron are often milder, and some infected people have no symptoms, the researchers agree. But like the flu, it can be deadly, especially for people who are old, have other health conditions, or aren’t vaccinated.
“It’s important to note that ‘softer’ does not mean ‘softer,'” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing this week.
Until recently, Chuck Culotta was a healthy middle-aged man who ran a pressure washing business in Milford, Delaware. As the omicron wave ravaged the North East, he felt the first symptoms before Christmas and tested positive on Christmas Day. He died less than a week later, on December 31, nine days shy of his 51st birthday.
He was unvaccinated, said his brother, Todd, because he had questions about the long-term effects of the vaccine.
“He just wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do – yet,” said Todd Culotta, who received his shots over the summer.
At an urban Kansas hospital, 50 COVID-19 patients have died this month and more than 200 are being treated. The University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, released video from its morgue showing bodies bagged in a refrigeration unit and a worker marking a white body bag with the word “COVID.”
“It’s real,” said Ciara Wright, the hospital’s deceased affairs coordinator. “Our concerns are, ‘Are the funeral homes going to come fast enough?’ We have access to a refrigerated truck, we don’t want to use it if we don’t have to.
Dr Katie Dennis, a pathologist who does autopsies for the health system, said the morgue was at or above capacity almost every day in January, “which is definitely unusual.”
With more than 878,000 deaths, the United States has the highest COVID-19 death toll of any country.
Over the coming week, almost every US state will see a faster rise in deaths, although deaths have peaked in a few states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maryland, Alaska and Georgia, according to the COVID-19 Forecast Hub.
New hospital admissions have started to decline for all age groups, according to CDC data, and a decline in deaths is expected to follow.
“In a pre-pandemic world, during certain flu seasons, there are 10,000 or 15,000 deaths. We see that over the course of a week sometimes with COVID,” said Nicholas Reich, who aggregates coronavirus projections for the hub in conjunction with the CDC.
“The toll, the sadness and the suffering is staggering and very humbling,” said Reich, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In other developments:
– The White House said Friday that about 60 million households have ordered 240 million home testing kits under a new government program to expand testing opportunities. The government also said it has shipped tens of millions of masks to convenient locations across the country, including Friday deliveries to community centers in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
– The national pharmacy chain Walgreens is among the pharmacies receiving government-provided masks. The chain has started offering free N95 masks in several stores, while supplies last. The company’s website lists locations in the Midwest for the first wave of stores offering masks, but Walgreens said more stores will soon offer them.
– The leading organization of state and local public health officials has called on governments to stop carrying out widespread contact tracing, saying it is no longer necessary. The Association of State and Territory Health Officials has urged governments to focus their contact tracing efforts on high-risk vulnerable populations, such as people in homeless shelters and nursing homes.
Heather Hollingsworth, Associated Press writer, in Mission, Kansas; Tom Murphy in Indianapolis; and Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.