Vaccines, treatments and other public health measures have helped curb the spread of Covid and keep deaths and hospitalizations down, but as the U.S. enters the fourth year of the pandemic, data shows hundreds of people still dying with the virus every day, an infectious omicron offshoot tearing across the country and dismal appetite for updated booster shots.
The U.S. reported 3,953 Covid deaths for the week ending Wednesday, according to CDC data, an average of more than 560 deaths a day.
The figure is a slight drop from the 4,209 Covid deaths reported the week before but, other than that week, the highest weekly total reported since March and comes as part of a broader upswing in deaths since late November.
The seven-day average for patients in hospital with confirmed Covid was about 34,000 on Tuesday, down from around 41,000 as recently as January 7—hospitalizations began to spike in late December—but otherwise one of the highest rates since August.
These figures are a long way from pandemic highs: weekly deaths peaked at more than 23,000 around this time in 2021, more than 3,000 deaths a day, and the seven-day average for hospitalized patients with confirmed Covid peaked at more than 146,000 around this time last year.
But they are also a long way from pandemic lows: fewer than 2,000 deaths were recorded for each of the first three weeks of July 2021 and the seven-day average for hospitalizations briefly dipped under 10,000 in April last year for the first and only time since the CDC started reporting data in August 2020.
Current levels are markedly higher than those at other points in the pandemic: for most of October and November, for example, hospitalizations hovered between 21,000 and 22,000 and there were around 320 deaths a day in November, according to CDC data.
Though vaccines and treatments have helped bring down the number of deaths and hospitalizations—and despite the assertion of President Joe Biden—the Covid-19 pandemic is not over. Officials are still plotting out the ways we can live with the virus and experts worry that the ground gained over the last few years has made people complacent to the virus that still kills hundreds each day. Officials and experts stress vaccination, particularly with the recent updated booster shots, is important to stay protected. CDC data suggests uptake of the reformulated shots has been dismal, with around 15% of the population having had one. The emergence and spread of infectious new variants also concerns experts, particularly XBB.1.5, an offshoot of omicron that the CDC estimates makes up around half of all Covid cases in the U.S. The variant has spread rapidly; in mid-December, the CDC estimates it accounted for less than 5% of cases.
1,099,866. That’s how many Covid-19 deaths there have been in the U.S. since the pandemic started, according to CDC records. Since emerging, Covid-19 has consistently ranked as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., trailing two catchall categories encompassing a multitude of distinct ailments: heart disease and cancer. Early data suggests there were far fewer Covid deaths in 2022 than in the previous two years, around 265,000. Some 350,000 people died with Covid in 2020 and around 475,000 died in 2021. The true death toll is probably much higher than official figures indicate. The number of excess deaths, which include those who haven’t been counted and whose deaths may be linked to the pandemic, provide a more holistic picture. Deaths also offer a narrow picture of the pandemic’s impact and it is important to consider the many who come down with the persistent, sometimes disabling set of symptoms after infection, a condition known as long Covid.
What We Don’t Know
Official case counts are likely to significantly underestimate the scale of the country’s Covid outbreak. Covid testing—particularly those using Nucleic Acid Amplification Tests, which are considered to be the most accurate and reliable tests available—has steadily fallen since July and is now at the lowest point since testing first ramped up in May 2020. The downturn can be explained with a number of factors including the Increasing use of rapid self-tests—often at-home antigen tests—decreasing testing in general as people return to pre-pandemic lifestyles and many infections being asymptomatic. Wastewater analyses of the virus that causes Covid-19 suggests a recent surge in cases, far from the pandemic peak in January 2022 but in line with the large surge last summer.