Taming the virus: US deaths hit lowest level in 10 months

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FILE - In this May 5, 2021, file photo, a group of friends, who said they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, mingle on the beach in the Venice section of Los Angeles. COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have tumbled to an average of just over 600 per day the lowest level in 10 months with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and hitting zero on some days. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

COVID-19 deaths in the United States have tumbled to an average of around 600 per day — the lowest level in 10 months — with the number of lives lost dropping to single digits in well over half the states and, on some days, hitting zero.

Confirmed infections have fallen to about 38,000 per day on average, their lowest mark since mid-September. While that is still cause for concern, reported cases have plummeted 85% from a daily peak of more than a quarter-million in early January.

The last time U.S. deaths from the pandemic were this low was in early July of last year. The number of people with COVID-19 who died topped out in mid-January at an average of more than 3,400 a day, just a month into the biggest vaccination drive in the nation's history.

The Boston Herald put a huge zero on its front page Wednesday under the headline “First time in nearly a year state has no new coronavirus deaths.” Indiana reported one COVID-19 fatality Tuesday. Kansas, which peaked at 63 reported deaths on Dec. 22, has been in the single digits since February and seen multiple days with just one virus-related death.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, said that vaccinations have played a crucial role even as the nation struggles to reach herd immunity.

“The primary objective is to deny this virus the ability to kill at the rate that it could, and that has been achieved," he said. “We have in effect tamed the virus.”

About 45% of the nation's adults are fully vaccinated, and nearly 59% have received at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This week, Pfizer's vaccine won authorization for use in 12- to 15-year-olds, a move that could make it easier to reopen the nation's schools.

Physicians like Dr. Tom Dean in South Dakota’s rural Jerauld County are cautiously optimistic, concerned about the many people who have decided against getting vaccinated or have grown lax in guarding against infections. The county has recorded just three confirmed cases in the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins data.