Coronavirus deaths in US fall to lowest point since summer

People visit the Santa Monica Pier on March 25 in California, USA. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Fewer than 800 coronavirus deaths are being reported each day in the United States, the lowest daily average since before the Omicron variant took hold late last fall.

The last time the rate was this low was in mid-August last year, according to a New York Times database.

Trends in deaths lag behind cases and hospitalisations by weeks because of the time it takes for people to become seriously ill, and the time needed to complete and file death records.

The seven-day average of new cases has also dropped significantly from the height of the Omicron surge.

Though the decrease has slowed in recent days, the average has hovered this past week around 30,000 cases per day, a level last seen in July last year.

Coronavirus hospitalisations plummeted in the past two weeks by about 36 per cent, to about 18,000 per day.

Intensive care unit hospitalisations have fallen too - by about 43 per cent - to under 3,000.

But as cases increased in parts of Europe, scientists and health officials have already been warning of another rise in US cases and, with it, the first major test of the country's strategy of living with the virus while limiting its effect.

Top US health officials reiterated concerns last week about the impact of stalled Covid-19 response aid amid the spread of BA.2, a highly transmissible Omicron subvariant accounting for about 35 per cent of new US cases and a form of the virus similar to what swept through the nation this winter.

A growing number of US states are reporting fewer daily updates, saying that metrics such as hospitalisations and wastewater monitoring have become more relevant than daily case reports.

Still, Kentucky, New York, Colorado and Texas are among a few states that are showing a rise in new cases over the past two weeks.

"I think it's very hard for anyone to give a definitive answer for what's happening here," said Dr Gigi Gronvall, a testing expert and a senior scholar at the Centre for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, referring to the surge in parts of Europe and what that could portend for the US. "We don't know everything there is to know."

Every state and many municipalities have relaxed many Covid-19 precautions, and officials are mostly encouraging Americans to return to pre-pandemic routines.

On Saturday, Hawaii became the final state in the nation to remove its indoor masking requirement.

In late February, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention created an online tool that shows Americans whether their area is at high, medium or low community risk for the coronavirus.

On Monday, only 53 of the roughly 3,000 US counties were categorised as high risk.

The World Health Organisation reported last week that the BA.2 subvariant that is helping to drive another surge of coronavirus cases in Europe is now the dominant version of Omicron around the world.

And several countries in East Asia are getting rid of Covid-19 rules quickly, even as the Omicron variant continues spreading in parts of the region. China, though, is still enforcing stricter measures.

The US, with ample vaccine supply, has suffered the highest known total deaths - more than 975,000 - and the coronavirus is killing Americans at far higher rates than people in other wealthy nations, a New York Times analysis showed last month.

Some experts warn of another potential US wave, spurred by BA.2.

"How pronounced that wave is, and what toll it takes on our populations, has a lot to do with how well we pay attention to leading edge indicators, and actually implement a collective, public response to mitigating spread," said Dr Jason L. Salemi, a public health researcher at the University of South Florida who tracks Covid-19 data.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.