As the world marked the second anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic in March, the United States was on the brink of reaching 1 million COVID-19 deaths, with health experts projecting that the country would surpass that mark by the end of the month or early April.
Nearly two months later, the nation is still bracing for that grim milestone. But that it’s taken longer than expected is a sliver of sunlight in an otherwise dark reality.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 81 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. to date, and more than 993,000 Americans have died of complications from the virus.
But the daily death rate has slowed considerably. On March 11 — the day many Americans recognize as the anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic — the seven-day average for deaths attributed to COVID-19 was 1,229, per Johns Hopkins. It has since fallen to about 300 deaths a day.
Daily hospitalizations have fallen too, from a pandemic high of more than 20,000 in mid-January to under 2,000 now.
“I believe we are at an inflection point,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the new White House coordinator of the administration’s COVID-19 response, said at a press briefing earlier this week. “On one hand, we know that BA.2, the subvariant of Omicron, has become dominant; cases are rising across the country. But hospitalizations are at the lowest level of the pandemic and deaths are continuing to fall.
“We're down to about 300 deaths a day — still too many, still too high, but [we are] doing so much better than we have throughout much of this pandemic,” Jha added.
He credited the nation’s vaccination program, in large part, for slowing the death toll. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 219 million Americans, or 66.1% of the population, are considered fully vaccinated, having received at least two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot. And more than 100 million Americans have received at least one COVID-19 booster, or about 45% of those fully vaccinated, per CDC data.
All of which led Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease director and chief medical adviser to President Biden, to declare this week that the country is “out of the pandemic phase.”
“We don't have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths,” Fauci said in an interview with "PBS Newshour” on Tuesday. “We are at a low level right now. So if you're saying, ‘Are we out of the pandemic phase in this country?’ we are.”
He clarified those remarks in a Washington Post interview the following day, saying the nation is moving “into a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity.”
Both Fauci and Jha acknowledged that predicting the endgame to this pandemic is futile.
“We know this virus is tricky,” Jha said. “We know that the risk of potential surges, even of a potential new variant, remains out there. The good news is we are at a point where we have a lot more capabilities, a lot more tools to protect the American people: testing, vaccines, therapeutics. These are the sort of the pillars of how we manage the rest of this pandemic.”