Feb 3, 2022 - Health

COVID deaths are rising even as Omicron dies down

Change in reported COVID-19 cases per 100k people in the last two weeks
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Omicron is finally on its way out, but it's leaving behind a death toll that is still rising.

By the numbers: New cases are plunging. The U.S. is now averaging just under 425,000 new cases per day, down from over 750,000 per day just two weeks ago.

  • And for the first time since the Omicron wave set in, almost the whole country is sharing in that improvement. Average daily cases have fallen over the past two weeks in all but five states.

Where it stands: Maryland and Washington, D.C., have the lowest rates of COVID spread in the country, each with fewer than 45 cases per 100,000 people. New York and New Jersey aren’t far behind.

  • Alaska has the country's biggest COVID outbreak, with 310 cases per 100,000 people. Most states are still well above 100 cases per 100,000 people. So there's still a long way to go. But that improvement is happening quickly.

Yes, but: Deaths are still on the rise. The virus is killing roughly 2,600 Americans per day, on average.

  • That's a function of two things: Deaths are always the last number to move, in any wave, and so it makes sense for Omicron deaths to be accumulating now.
  • But those deaths were almost entirely preventable. The overwhelming majority of people dying from COVID were unvaccinated.
  • The risk of dying from COVID is 60 times higher for unvaccinated people than it is for people who are vaccinated and boosted, according to the CDC's most recent data.
  • A more recent study in the U.K. suggested that a booster cuts the risk of death by about 95%, compared to being unvaccinated.

What's next: Cases still need to decline a lot more in order to reach safe levels of transmission. But if their rapid descent continues — and if another new variant doesn't spring up and wreak havoc all over again — the U.S. could soon be back to the relatively safe place it experienced last fall.

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