The number of daily U.S. deaths from the coronavirus is declining again after peaking in early August, but scientists warn that a new bout with the disease this fall could claim more lives.

The arrival of cooler weather and the likelihood of more indoor gatherings will add to the importance of everyday safety precautions, experts say.

“We have to change the way we live until we have a vaccine,” said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. In other words: Wear a mask. Stay home. Wash your hands.

The United States has seen two distinct peaks in daily deaths. The nation’s summertime surge crested at about half the size of the first deadly wave in April.

Deaths first peaked on April 24 at an average of 2,240 each day as the disease romped through the dense cities of the Northeast. Then, over the summer, outbreaks in Texas, California and Florida drove daily deaths to a second peak of 1,138 on Aug. 1.

Some states — Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada and California — suffered more deaths during the summer wave than during their first milder run-in with the virus in the spring. Others — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Colorado — definitely saw two spikes in infections but suffered fewer deaths the second time around.

Now about 700 Americans are dying of the virus each day. That's down about 25 percent from two weeks ago but still not low enough to match the early July low of about 500 daily deaths, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The number of people being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals in the summertime hot spots of Florida and Texas has been on a steady downward trend since July.

In Florida, the number of COVID-19 patients Thursday morning was less than 3,000 after peaking at more than 9,500 on July 23. Two weeks later, the state reached its highest seven-day average in daily reported deaths.

In Texas, about 3,500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday, a measure that's been improving since peaking July 22 at 10,893.

Worryingly, a dozen states are bucking the national downward trend. Iowa, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kansas are among states still seeing increases in daily deaths, although none is anywhere near the death rates seen in the spring in the Northeast. Back then, the virus caught New York off guard and claimed 1,000 lives per day in that state alone, or five deaths per 100,000 people.

“Often, it's hard to understand the trends when looking at the whole country,” said Alison Hill, an infectious disease researcher at Harvard University. She noted that daily deaths are still rising in some metro areas, including Memphis, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose.

“We’re at a really critical point right now," Hill said. “Schools are reopening. The weather is getting colder, driving people indoors. All those things don’t bode particularly well.”

What’s ahead may be worse because the virus is likely to have a seasonal swing similar to other respiratory illnesses, Mokdad agreed.

“In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s hard to say we were lucky, but we were lucky that COVID-19 came at a time when seasonality was helping us,” he said.

Similar fears grip Europe. The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases spiked Friday in parts of eastern Europe, with Hungary and the Czech Republic registering all-time daily highs. Signs of the pandemic’s resurgence were also evident in Britain and the Netherlands. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his government was drafting a “war plan” to defend against another wave of infection.

Scientists do not yet know how much credit, if any, to give to treatment improvements for the decline in daily U.S. deaths. Doctors now use drugs such as remdesivir and tricks such as flipping patients from their backs to their stomachs.

But gains seen on hospital wards are hard to document with national data. Strangely, the death rate for patients admitted to the hospital has not improved, Mokdad said. It's possible that sicker patients are now being admitted to hospitals compared with earlier in the year, while healthier patients are treated at home. That would make it hard to see an improvement in the rate of deaths once patients are admitted to the hospital.

Others insist better treatments must be making a difference.

“We have many more tools in September of 2020 than we did in March of 2020,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

And nursing homes are safer, Adalja said. Early in the epidemic, hospitals discharged patients with coronavirus into nursing homes full of vulnerable people. “We’ve learned from those mistakes,” Adalja said.

Vigilance is the byword for fall, Mokdad said.

“This is a deadly virus. It’s very opportunistic,” he said. “It waits for us to make a mistake.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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(3) comments

Bailey Jones

These are the national weekly death tolls since the beginning of July:

4257

5056

5468

6450

8102

7514

7383

7357

6738

5909

5394

You can see that we had a peak at the beginning of August (8102), then a steady decline. But we are still 1000+ deaths above our lowest point (4257). The August peak was the second peak - the first was back in April, at 18418 deaths in a single week. Unlike other nations, we've never been able to get our death rate down to something approaching zero.

We should know in a couple of weeks if school openings are going to push the numbers back up, or if our death rate will continue to drop.

197,736 reported dead, as of this moment.

Wayne D Holt

Bailey, you know I have shown respect for your observations on this epidemic over the past months but you probably also know I could not let these numbers pass unremarked upon.

There is absolutely no way any objective reading of the impact of Covid-19 can be inferred by these numbers. The problem of the statistical debauchery that has characterized the enumeration of victims has been well known since Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London set off a firestorm of hysterical overreaction based on an initial fatality analysis he himself revised down by 96%+ within weeks.

Re these numbers specially, we must keep in mind that, to this day, in most places in America, those who die WITH Covid-19 are listed as dying OF Covid-19, even though those two outcomes are far from identical. Autopsies, the sine qua non of proof of cause of death, are dispensed with in the majority of cases. Over 40% of the largest cohort of deaths occurred as a result of state governors forcing seniors who tested positive to return to their assisted living centers where their proximity to others ravaged the facilities' populations.

In the city of Galveston, the average life expectancy before Covid-19 was 72 at a time when the median age of death from the virus was 80. In addition, in May the CDC revised the method of reporting statistics on the virus to the PIC model: they lumped pneumonia, and influenza victims in with Covid-19 victims, creating a large spike in those affected.

When we get greater numbers going into the colder months, it will not be due to the virulent nature of the virus or lax enforcement of distancing and masking, but part of the seasonality of ALL viruses that reoccur more often in cold weather. The reason has been offered since early 1960s research showed that warm/hot weather doesn't kill the virus. Rather, aerosolized virus particles are captured by the prevalence of water droplets in the humid summer atmosphere. This reduces the effect of inhaling sufficient viral loads to create more infectious conditions. In the colder months, we have drier air that doesn't hold onto these virus particles, and they remain airborne and more easily taken into the respiratory system through simple breathing.

A volume could be offered on the myriad flaws and inconsistencies in how Covid-19 deaths and serious ill effects have been counted. Anyone looking at the raw numbers should keep the above very much in mind before accepting the consensus perspective.

Bailey Jones

So, a few things, Wayne. First, the important thing in reading the trend in any data set isn't so much the absolute accuracy of the numbers, but whether the measurement technique is consistent. A speedometer that consistently reads 10 mph over is still a useful gauge of whether you are speeding up or slowing down. I think the rationale for attributing deaths - whatever you think of it - has been consistently applied since July, at least.

Second - I don't really follow Neil Ferguson, so I don't know what you're referring to. But a couple of recent articles are entirely consistent with everything else I understand about the virus.

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/198155/neil-ferguson-talks-modelling-lockdown-scientific/

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/201953/world-still-early-stage-pandemic-neil/

Third - who knows what effect weather will have on the virus. I remember one famous idiot and his puppets promising that it would disappear in the spring and summer - and yet it exploded. School has already started in many locations, and it's not winter yet. So whatever changes we see in the numbers in the next few weeks can be attributed to schools. Whatever happens later in the year - say November or December - when the opening of schools is no longer part of the equation, can be attributed to weather. By March, we'll have seen a full year of virus behavior, and be more able to predict it with some certainly.

As your professor Ferguson says, and I agree, the real job now is to understand this pandemic so we can be ready for the next one:

"I think one of the things that will be critical is we don’t want to be in a position again, such as in the UK and the USA, where we had way too little testing capacity to really get a good handle on what infection was happening.

"For future pandemics we need to be scaling up testing and surveillance not just at borders, but countries need to be looking systematically for cases they’ve missed in terms of border controls and looking for evidence of sustained transmission in their populations.

"Some countries did, such as South Korea, and if every country had done this we would have seen a much lower death toll overall."

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