FILE - In this March 5, 2021, file photo, Dian Rana receives Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in Long Beach, Calif. U.S. deaths from COVID-19 are falling again as the nation recovers from the devastating winter surge. Most forecasts predict coronavirus deaths will fall further in coming weeks, as more people are vaccinated. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

COVID-19 deaths falling but Americans ‘must remain vigilant’

COVID-19 deaths falling but Americans ‘must remain vigilant’

NEW YORK — U.S. deaths from COVID-19 are falling again as the nation continues to recover from the devastating winter surge, a trend that experts are cautiously hopeful will accelerate as more vulnerable people are vaccinated.

While new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations have plummeted, the decline in deaths from a January peak of about 4,500 hasn’t been quite as steep. But, now, after weeks of hovering around 2,000 daily deaths, that figure has dropped to about 1,400 U.S. lives lost each day to coronavirus.

“I am encouraged by these data but we must remain vigilant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at Friday’s White House briefing.

Public health experts say it’s too soon to say, definitively, what’s driving declines since the surge — but they suspect a post-holiday drop in travelling and indoor gatherings, widespread mask wearing and the vaccine rollout have all contributed.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Harvard Medical School researcher Jagpreet Chhatwal. “I think a message of optimism is fair.”

Walensky and others worry that a pandemic-weary public will let down its guard too soon. And they’re monitoring the spread of worrisome new versions of the virus.

“We’re all desperate to get done with this,” said Jeff Shaman, who studies infectious disease at Columbia University. “We’re not in a place where it’s safe as of yet.”

Health care workers say they’ve seen it happen before — a crushing wave of illness and death, momentary relief from a drop in COVID-19 cases, and then, another deadly surge. About 531,000 Americans have died since the pandemic began a year ago.

“Every time you thought you had an end, the number of cases went up,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, head of emergency medicine at St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson, New Jersey.

For now, most forecasts show coronavirus deaths falling further in coming weeks as more people get vaccines. More than 100 million doses have been given out since December, and the pace is picking up.

“We expect it to continue to drive those deaths down even more,” said Johns Hopkins infectious disease expert Justin Lessler.

As of this week, 62% of those 65 and older have gotten at least one dose, according to the CDC. That’s the age group that’s been hit the hardest and still accounts for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

Increasingly better treatments for severe COVID-19 will also continue to help, doctors say.

“All of these things are coming together to put a dent in the problem,” said Dr. Lewis Nelson, an emergency medicine specialist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

The tally of coronavirus deaths often lags behind new infections and hospitalizations, since it can take a long time for someone to become seriously ill and die after contracting the virus. It can also take weeks for deaths to be added to the national count.

“There’s sort of a longer tail, sadly, on death and dying from COVID-19,” said Boston College public health expert Dr, Philip J. Landrigan.

That’s what happened in the case of Teresa Ciappa, 73, of Amherst, New York, who developed a terrible cough and fever around Thanksgiving. She was admitted to the hospital soon after and died in early January of complications from COVID-19.

“Week after week she just declined and declined,” said her daughter, Michelle Ciappa, who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Her family was there when she was taken off of a ventilator.

“We watched her take her last breath and that was it,” Michelle Ciappa said. “I wish people would be patient and take this more seriously.”

If states continue lifting restrictions, health experts warn, we could see another deadly wave of illnesses.

On Monday, Wyoming became the latest state in a growing list — including Texas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa, Montana and Alabama — that has pulled mask requirements or plan to do so soon. Governors across the country have also eased restrictions on how many customers can be allowed in bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theatres.

“They’re not taking a slow measured approach. They’re flipping a switch,” Lessler said. “There is the very real possibility of big resurgences.”

Experts also worry about unchecked spread of mutated versions of the coronavirus that spread easier and could blunt the effectiveness of certain treatments or vaccines.

“It’s still a race against time,” said Jaline Gerardin, who studies COVID-19 trends at Northwestern University. “The fear is we won’t catch something when we should.”

Rosenberg, the ER doctor, said he hopes the public will be encouraged by the pandemic’s downward trend to keep wearing masks, washing their hands and staying a safe distance from others.

“We know what worked,” he said. “If we’re saying we’re in the last phase of the battle, don’t put your weapons away yet.”

___

AP writers Thalia Beaty in New York and John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Marion Renault, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read