More than 2,600 Americans are dying from Covid-19 each day, an alarming number that has climbed by 30 percent in the past two weeks. Across the United States, the coronavirus pandemic has now claimed more than 900,000 lives.
Yet another, simultaneous reality of the pandemic offers reason for hope. Reports of new coronavirus infections are plummeting, falling by more than half since mid-January. Hospitalizations are also declining.
All that has created a disorienting moment in the pandemic: Though deaths are still mounting, the threat from the virus is moving, for now, farther into the background of daily life for many Americans.
The Omicron surge has brought with it an especially potent and fast-moving wave of death across the United States. The country’s per capita death rate still exceeds those of other wealthy nations, a reflection of widespread resistance to vaccines and boosters in the United States. During the Omicron surge, hospital admissions in the United States have been higher than in Western Europe.
That the 900,000-death milestone comes more than a year after vaccines were first authorized adds to the pain, said Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, the Baltimore health commissioner. Federal data shows that a vast majority of deaths have been unvaccinated people. Multiple studies have shown that vaccination offers strong protection against severe illness and death from Covid.
“As a public health professional, it is unbelievably sad, because I think so many of the deaths were likely preventable,” Dr. Dzirasa said. She said her agency continued to organize vaccination clinics each week, but that some of them were “barely attended.”
Deaths over the past seven weeks were reported in large numbers across the United States, with especially high rates in the Southwest and around the Great Lakes.
Much of the Midwest, Northeast and Southwest were already suffering large outbreaks fueled by the Delta variant in December before Omicron became dominant. It is possible that many of the most recent deaths in those regions were caused by Delta.
A month ago, when the Omicron surge was driving cases to record highs, millions of Americans were out sick from work, coronavirus tests were hard to come by, and public health directors urged bail as hospitals filled. In the weeks since, as the outlook has improved, the sense of alarm has diminished.
In Cleveland and Detroit, where public schools briefly moved instruction online because of Omicron, students returned to classrooms. In Chicago, city leaders said they would consider lifting a rule requiring vaccination for indoor dining in the next few weeks.
The recalibrated message is more optimistic about the weeks ahead, yet grounded in a more sober reality. The country is moving into a new phase of the pandemic, officials say, where a virus threat will persist indefinitely, but where most people can rely on vaccines to protect them from the worst consequences.