COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have dipped below 300 a day for the first time since the early days of the disaster in March 2020, while the drive to put shots in arms hit another encouraging milestone Monday: 150 million Americans fully vaccinated.
The coronavirus was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020, behind heart disease and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But now, as the outbreak loosens its grip, it has fallen down the list of the biggest killers.
CDC data suggests that more Americans are dying every day from accidents, chronic lower respiratory diseases, strokes or Alzheimer’s disease than from COVID-19.
The U.S. death toll stands at more than 600,000, while the worldwide count is close to 3.9 million, though the real figures in both cases are believed to be markedly higher.
About 45% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Over 53% of Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine. But U.S. demand for shots has slumped, to the disappointment of public health experts.
New cases are running at about 11,400 a day on average, down from over a quarter-million per day in early January. Average deaths per day are down to about 293, according to Johns Hopkins University, after topping out at over 3,400 in mid-January.
Some states are faring worse than others. Missouri leads the nation in per-capita COVID-19 cases and is fourth behind California, Florida and Texas in the number of new cases per day over the past week despite its significantly smaller population.
The surge is being driven by new cases in a farming region in the northern part of the state and in the southwest corner, which includes the towns of Branson and Springfield. COVID-19 hospitalizations in southwest Missouri have risen 72% since the beginning of the month as of Friday.
The fall will bring new waves of infection, but they will be less severe and concentrated more in places with low vaccination rates, said Amber D’Souza, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“So much depends on what happens over the summer and what happens with children,” D’Souza said. “Anyone who is not vaccinated can become infected and transmit the virus.”
Good, but short of goal
More than 70% of Americans age 30 or older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the White House said, even as President Joe Biden is set to fall short of reaching his goal of giving a shot to the same percentage of all American adults by Independence Day.
The White House said meeting Biden’s vaccination goal is less important than the pace of the nation’s reopening, which is exceeding even its own internal projections as the overwhelming majority of the nation’s most vulnerable people are fully vaccinated and cases and deaths are at their lowest rates since the earliest days of the pandemic.
Still, the nationwide rate of new vaccinations has dropped off precipitously over the past month even as shots have become more available, with fewer than 300,000 Americans now getting their first dose per day on average.
Americans at highest risk for complications from COVID-19 are overwhelmingly vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but only 53% aged 25-39 have received one dose. Among those 18-24, it’s 47%.
“What we’ve seen, as we’ve dug into the data, is that there is a big gap between individuals 25 and over, and 18 to 25,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “That means that’s an area we need to continue to work on.”
Associated Press reporters Carla K. Johnson and Zeke Miller contributed to this story.