Covid deaths in the U.S. are on the rise, and are approaching worrying levels not reached since the tale end of last winter’s surge – which is still the deadliest of the pandemic. The nation is averaging 2,259 deaths per day this week, the highest total since February 17, 2021.
Hope could be on the horizon, though, as deaths often lag behind Covid cases, which have been on a decline in recent weeks – especially along the east coast.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, daily cases have dropped by 13 percent over the past seven days, down to 639,723 per day from 773,771 per day. It appears that the U.S. is beyond the peak of the Omicron surge – with cases eclipsing 800,000 per day last week then coming down again quickly.
The drop in cases has not been as pronounced in the U.S. as it has in peer nations like the UK and South Africa, though, due to the large size and spread out nature of the country.
The recent decline in cases has been long predicted by health officials. Omicron arrived in the U.S. around the time of its discovery in late-November, and quickly caused cases to spike – especially in major population centers like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Cases are starting to decline in these areas as the variant is burning out. The highly infectious, vaccine resistant, strain of the virus infected so many people so quickly that it started to run out of people to transmit to.
All across the east coast , cases are falling. New York and New Jersey – which both suffered massive surges of cases last month due to rampant transmission in the Big Apple. Both states are now recording case drops of around 70 percent over the past two weeks.
Even southern states like Georgia, Florida and South Carolina that were among those hardest struck by the variant when it arrived stateside at the end of last year are either recording declining cases or significantly smaller increases than they were in previous weeks.
The Omicron variant is more mild than previous strains of the virus as well, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data Tuesday highlighting the low mortality rate of the variant when compared to previous strains.
A study published by the CDC found that despite the peak of the Omicron variant including 400 percent more cases at its peak, deaths were actually down four percent when compared to the height of the Delta-fueled outbreak.
‘COVID-19 disease severity appears to be lower during the Omicron period than during previous periods of high transmission, likely related to higher vaccination coverage, which reduces disease severity, lower virulence of the Omicron variant, and infection-acquired immunity,’ researchers wrote.
Despite the relatively lower mortality rate, the high volume of Covid cases can still strain hospital systems, and cause deaths to rise to worrying levels. While a lower proportion of virus patients are dying now when compared to previous surges, the more than 2,000 Americans succumbing to the virus every day has still alarmed some experts.
Another threat could be around the corner as well. Across the pond in the UK, a sub-variant of Omicron that is believed to be even more infectious is starting to spread. While it still accounts for less than one percent of sequenced cases in the nation, officials are on alert for the new ‘stealth’ strain that can not be detected by PCR tests.
The plummeting of cases in the UK has tapered off, starting to slowly grow once again after dropping from 180,000 infections per day in early January to just over 96,000 on January 26.
South Africa, the nation where the variant was first discovered, was the first country to experience a massive surge in cases. Case quickly rose from around 500 per day to over 23,000 per day in late 2021, before reaching a peak and making a sharp decline. The country is now down to just over 3,000 cases per day in late January.
While cases are declining in the U.S., Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, warns that it is too early to totally ‘return to normal’.
‘We are not there right now,’ he said during a briefing Wednesday morning.
‘When you have over 2,000 deaths, 150,000 hospitalizations and you have people who are now getting infected to the tune of somewhere around 700,000 a day, we’re not there yet’
He explained that in order to control the virus, and stop it from disrupting every day life, it will take a combination of mass development and distribution of vaccines, tests, masks and antiviral therapeutic treatments. All those together can get the situation under control.
‘A level of control that does not disrupt us in society, that does not dominate our live and does not prevent us from doing things that we generally do under normal existence,’ he said.
Like the UK and South Africa, regions of the U.S. that suffered Omicron surges in December are seeing case levels come back down after reaching record levels. Nearly half, 21, states are now recording a declining of cases over the past two weeks.
Of those states, 19 are east of the Mississippi river, with Louisiana – which borders the west side of the river – is also among the group. No state east of the Mississippi is recording a case increase of more than 50 percent.
New Jersey is the leader in case decline over the past two weeks, dropping 71 percent over the past two weeks. Its neighbor, New York, has seen a 69 percent drop in cases over the last 14 days as well. Both states were sequencing Omicron cases at a rate four times the national average in mid-December, signaling how quickly the variant took hold in those states when compared to elsewhere.
The duo also saw cases increases seven-fold during that period, and are now seeing those figures finally come back down after peaking in recent weeks.
Maryland was struck by the variant quickly as well, and like its peers just to the north, is now experiencing a massive 63 percent drop in cases over the past two weeks. The state also has the lowest infection rate in the U.S., with only 74 of every 100,000 residents testing positive for the virus every day.
Other states along the east coast are experiencing substantial declines as well, like New Hampshire (27 percent), Vermont (eight percent), Pennsylvania (48 percent), Delaware (39 percent), Virginia (29 percent), Georgia (13 percent) and Florida (49 percent).
Illinois is firmly in the Midwest, but its major population center in Chicago makes the state often match east coast trends. The Prairie state is recording a 25 percent drop in cases over the past two weeks. Other states like Wisconsin (17 percent) – the leader in case growth at one point last week – Ohio (24 percent), Mississippi (two percent) and Louisiana (27 percent) are experiencing declines as well.
Out west, cases are continuing to grow, though, as the Great Frontier is yet to have reached its peak yet. States in the plains region are recording massive case increases. Idaho (127 percent) and Montana (100 percent) are the only states in America recording cases increases of 100 percent or more over the past two weeks.
Also in the region, Minnesota (96 percent) and North Dakota (84 percent) are leading in cases increases as well.
These are less densely populated regions of the country than the major metropolitan hubs on the east coast, meaning it took much longer for Omicron to take hold in these regions. Now that it has, cases are starting to jump, though still not at the same rapid pace seen eastern states.
Other plains states like Wyoming (66 percent), Oklahoma (64 percent) and Kansas (61 percent) are recording sharp case increases over the last 14 days as well.
Colorado has proved to be an outlier among its peers, actually recording a 26 percent decline in cases over the past two weeks.
Many of the states recording declining cases are still among the leaders in Covid mortality rate. While cases are coming down in these states, the lagging of death totals behind case totals is causing the figures to remain high, though there is hope deaths will soon come down just as cases did.
Ohio is the national leader in Covid mortality rate, recording 1.52 deaths per every 100,000 residents daily. The state has recorded a 25 percent drop over the past two weeks, a sign that things could soon reverse for the state.
Ten states are now recording more than one death per every 100,000 residents every day. Many are along the east coast, like Massachusetts (1.39 deaths per 100,000 residents), New Jersey (1.25), Pennsylvania (1.22), Maryland (1.06) and New York (1.03) are all among the leaders in mortality rate.
Illinois (1.23) and neighboring Indiana remain among the leaders in mortality rate as well, though Covid cases seem to be beyond their peak in both of those states as well.
Across the pond, the UK has seen new daily cases start to slightly increase once more, up to 94,326 a day after reaching down into the low 80,000s last week. It is a far fall from the case peak at around 180,000 cases per day earlier this month and a surge that once looked devastating has quickly been controlled.
Similar to the U.S., the UK still had daily deaths slowly increase even as cases in the nation began to plummet. Things seem to have leveled off, though, with the nation steadying at around 440 daily deaths over the past week. It is likely cases will soon start to decline, just as cases did.
London, like New York City, has proved to be the national pandemic hotspot in England. The city in the southwestern region of the nation was slammed early and hard by the Omicron variant, with cases skyrocketing so quickly some feared the region would have to reenter lockdowns.
Cases in London quickly began to decline, though, and the new restrictions and overwhelming of hospitals that some experts predicted never materialized. The virus started to move northward and eastward afterwards, though, with cases declining in London and other nearby neighborhoods while the virus surged elsewhere.
Nearly every region of the UK is experiencing case declines now, though, as it appears that the Omicron variant has run its course in the country. Only a month ago, some experts feared the nation’s healthcare system would be overrun, but now its fortunes have totally reversed and the leaders are even beginning the transition to post-pandemic life.
Last week, mandates put in place to combat Omicron, like work from home orders, mask mandates, vaccine checks for certain events and capacity restrictions were lifted. Requirements for travelers into the nation to test upon arrival were lifted Monday as well.