US virus deaths surpass 450K; daily toll is stubbornly high

US virus deaths surpass 450K; daily toll is stubbornly high

Washington DC: Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, and daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines.

Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year. New COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week, said the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But there is also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalisations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together -- including this Sunday, to watch football, she added.

"I am worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly," Dr Rochelle Walensky said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Walensky said one reason cases and hospitalisations are not rising as dramatically as they were weeks ago is because the effect of holiday gatherings has faded.

The effect on deaths is delayed. The daily toll amounts to 50,000 new fatalities in the last two weeks alone.

"We are still in quite a bad place," she said.

The nation reported 3,912 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, down from the pandemic peak of 4,466 deaths on January 12.

The biggest driver to the US death toll over the past month has been California, which has averaged more than 500 deaths per day in recent weeks.

Dora Padilla was among the thousands of Californians who died in the last month. The 86-year-old daughter of Mexican immigrants served two decades as a school's trustee for Southern California's Alhambra Unified School District after helping out as a parent volunteer and band booster for her own children. She was one of the few Latinos to hold elected office at the time.

She tested positive in December at the facility where she lived, then developed a fever and saw her oxygen level drop. The facility was going to call an ambulance but decided to treat her there amid a surge in infections that filled local hospitals with virus patients, said her daughter Lisa Jones.

"They were just about ready to call an ambulance, but they realised there is nowhere for her to go. She is going to end up in a hallway somewhere," Jones said. Padilla was stable for days and seemed to be improving, but suddenly grew ill again before she died.

"I am still just kind of numb," her daughter said.

California's experience has mirrored many of the inequalities that have been exposed since the pandemic began nearly a year ago, with people of colour being hit especially hard.

For example, Latinos make up 46 per cent of California's overall death toll, despite being 39 per cent of the state's population. The situation has worsened in recent months. In November, the daily number of Latino deaths was 3.5 per 100,000 residents, but that rate shot up to 40 deaths per 100,000 last week.

Alabama is another hot spot. The seven-day rolling average of deaths there has risen over the past two weeks, from 74 to 147 deaths per day. Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee also saw surges in deaths. The hardest hit demographic groups continue to be the oldest and frailest, said Dr Thomas Holland of the Duke University.

When the Coronavirus first swept through the country, it was concentrated in nursing homes, prisons and other congregate care settings. It later spread more broadly.

"But deaths have still been concentrated among older patients and patients" with other health problems, Holland said.

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