For now, the cautious US is treading water with a modified COVID-19

The fast-moving coronavirus began in the U.S. over the summer with a flurry of infections, but relatively few deaths compared to its previous incarnations.

COVID-19 is still killing hundreds of Americans every day, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was last fall and winter.

“This summer is going to be good and we deserve this break,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

With an increasing number of Americans protected from serious illness through vaccination and infection, COVID-19 has — for now at least — become an unpleasant, unpleasant nuisance for most.

“It feels good to be careful now,” said the doctor. Dan Kaul, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. “For the first time in my memory since it started, we’ve had no (COVID-19) patients in the ICU.”

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As the country celebrates the Fourth of July, the average number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States is around 360. The US daily death toll remains the lowest since March 2020, when the virus first appeared in the US.

But at this time last year, there were fewer reported cases – less than 20,000 a day. Now it’s about 109,000 — and that number could be lower because home tests aren’t reported regularly.

Today, in the third year of the pandemic, the mixed picture is easy to understand: re-infections are increasing and a significant proportion of those infected are experiencing long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms.

However, the risk of death has decreased for many people.

“Because we’re now at a time when everyone’s immune system has seen a virus or a vaccine two or three times,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Over time, the body learns not to overreact when it sees this virus.”

“What we’re seeing is that people are getting less sick on average,” Dowdy said.

According to one influential model, 8 out of 10 people in the US have been infected at least once.

The death rate for COVID-19 was a moving target, but recently fell below the flu season average, according to data analyzed by Arizona State University health researcher Mara Aspinall.

At first, some people said the coronavirus was less deadly than the flu, “and for a long time that wasn’t true,” Aspinall said. At that time, people had no immunity. The treatment was experimental. Vaccines were not. there is.

Now, Aspinall says, built-in immunity has reduced the death rate to that of a typical flu season. Over the past decade, influenza-related mortality has ranged from 5% to 13% of hospitalizations.

Big differences separate flu from COVID-19: The behavior of the coronavirus continues to puzzle health experts, and it’s unclear whether it will evolve into a flu-like seasonal pattern.

Last summer — when vaccinations first became widely available in the U.S. — the delta surged, followed last February by the arrival of omicrons, which killed 2,600 Americans a day.

Experts believe that a new variant capable of escaping the established immunity of the population may appear. And the fast-spreading omicron subtypes BA.4 and BA.5 may also contribute to variation in mortality.

“We thought we would understand it before these new subvariants appeared,” said Dr. Peter Hotes, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

According to him, it is reasonable to think that a new version will come out and hit people by the end of this summer.

“Then another late fall-winter wave,” Hotes said.

Deaths are likely to increase in many states in the coming weeks, but deaths in the U.S. overall are likely to decline slightly, said Nicholas Reich, who compiles coronavirus forecasts for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for COVID-19 Predictions. and prevention.

“We’ve seen about 5,000 new admissions every day, up from just over 1,000 in early April. But during that same period, there was only a slight increase in deaths from COVID,” said Reich, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The risk of dying from COVID-19 in unvaccinated people is at least six times higher than in people with the first series, the CDC estimated, based on data available as of April.

Be aware of your vulnerability and those around you this summer, especially in large gatherings where the virus is spreading so quickly, Dowdy said.

“There are still people at risk,” he said.

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The Associated Press Division of Health and Science receives support from the Division of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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