'It Feels Cautiously Good' on COVID as Summer Hits

Still lots of infections, but deaths are relatively few compared to last fall and winter
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 2, 2022 9:00 AM CDT
Where We're At With COVID as Summer Hits
A scene along the St. Joseph River in St. Joseph, Mich., on June 15. The fast-changing coronavirus has kicked off summer in the US with lots of infections but relatively few deaths compared to its prior incarnations. COVID-19 is still killing hundreds of Americans each day, but for many people the...   (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP)

(Newser) – The fast-changing coronavirus has kicked off summer in the US with lots of infections but relatively few deaths compared to its prior incarnations. COVID-19 is still killing hundreds of Americans each day, but it isn't nearly as dangerous as it was last fall and winter. With more Americans shielded from severe illness through vaccination and infection, COVID-19 has transformed—for now at least—into an unpleasant, inconvenient nuisance for many. "It feels cautiously good right now," said Dr. Dan Kaul of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, per the AP. "For the first time that I can remember, pretty much since it started, we don't have any [COVID-19] patients in the ICU." As the nation marks July Fourth, the average number of daily deaths from COVID-19 in the United States is hovering around 360. Last year, during a similar summer lull, it was around 228 in early July.

That remains the lowest threshold in US daily deaths since March 2020, when the virus first began its US spread. But there were far fewer reported cases at this time last year—fewer than 20,000 a day. Now, it's about 109,000—and likely an undercount as home tests aren't routinely reported. Today, in the third year of the pandemic, it's easy to feel confused by the mixed picture: Repeat infections are increasingly likely, and a sizable share of those infected will face the lingering symptoms of long COVID-19. Yet, the stark danger of death has diminished for many people. "That's because we're now at a point that everyone's immune system has seen either the virus or the vaccine two or three times," said Dr. David Dowdy of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

As many as 8 out of 10 people in the US have been infected at least once, per one influential model. Experts, however, agree a new variant might arise capable of escaping the population's built-up immunity. And the fast-spreading omicron subtypes BA.4 and BA.5 might also contribute to a change in the death numbers. It would be wise to assume that a new variant will come along and hit the nation later this summer, as well as "another late fall-winter wave," said Dr. Peter Hotez of Texas' Baylor College of Medicine. This summer, consider your own vulnerability and that of those around you, especially in large gatherings as the virus is spreading so rapidly, Dowdy said. "There are still people who are very much at risk," he said.

(Read more COVID-19 stories.)

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