The United States has reached a milestone in the long fight against Covid: The total number of Americans who die each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal.
Excess deaths, as that number is known, has been an important measure of the true toll of Covid because it does not rely on vague attribution of deaths to a specific cause. Even if Covid is underdiagnosed, the excess death statistic can reveal its implications. The statistic also captures the indirect effects of Covid, such as a spike in vehicle accidents, gun deaths and deaths from missed medical treatment during the pandemic.
During the worst phases of Covid, the total number of Americans dying each day was 30 percent higher than normal, which is a shocking increase. For much of the past three years, the surplus has been above 10 percent. But over the past few months, excess deaths have dropped to almost zero, according to three different metrics.
After three horrific years in which Covid has killed more than a million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into a common disease.
The story is similar in many other countries, if not quite as positive:
Progress mostly stems from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of adults in the United States have received at least one vaccine injection.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have contracted Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of these first two categories.)
Third, post-infection therapies such as Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Almost every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who until recently was President Biden’s chief Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everyone is up to date on their vaccines and gets treatment if they have Covid, they rarely end up in hospital, and they almost never die.”
Jha noted that this also applies to most people at high risk, including the elderly — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — but not all — people who are immunocompromised, vaccines are still very effective in preventing serious disease,” he said. “There’s been a lot of bad information that somehow says if you’re immunocompromised the vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths are down close to zero helps make the point: If Covid is still a serious threat to large numbers of people, that will show in the data.
I think one of the points of confusion was the way many Americans — including us in the media — talked about low immunity. They are a much more diverse group than a normal discussion would imagine.
Most people who are immunocompromised are at a small additional risk from Covid – even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of several cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have had kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face a higher risk.
with vs whom
To be clear, the Covid toll has not gone down to zero. Centers for Disease Control The main Covid webpage It’s estimated that about 80 people have died each day from the virus in recent weeks, which equates to about 1 percent of the total daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who contracted the virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other CDC data indicates this Almost a third of recent official covid deaths fall into this category. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases Similar conclusions.
However, some Americans are still dying from Covid. “I don’t know anyone who thinks we’re going to finish COVID,” Jha said.
“Obviously, age is the most important risk factor,” Dr. Shira Doron, chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me. Covid victims are elderly and disproportionately vulnerable. Given vaccination policies, the new victims are also disproportionately Republicans and whites.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. Deaths that could have been prevented — because someone didn’t receive available vaccines and treatments — seem especially tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
However, the number of Covid deaths has now decreased enough that it is difficult to notice them in the overall mortality data. Fluctuations in other causes of death, such as the flu or vehicle accidents, can overwhelm her.
Almost a year ago, President Biden angered some public health experts when he declared that “the pandemic is over.” It may have been too early to make this announcement. But the hyper-mortality guru points out that it’s true now: The pandemic is finally over.
Related: Researchers are working to ensure that developing countries do not have to rely on them Countries rich in vaccines in a future pandemic, the Washington Post reported.
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