U.S. Covid-19 Deaths in 2021 Surpass 2020’s

The Wall Street Journal:

he number of U.S. Covid-19 deaths recorded in 2021 has surpassed the toll in 2020, according to federal data and Johns Hopkins University, demonstrating the virus’s persistent menace.

The total number of reported deaths linked to the disease topped 770,800 on Saturday, Johns Hopkins data show. This puts the pandemic-long total at more than twice the 385,343 Covid-19 deaths recorded last year, according to the most recent death-certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some communities were important factors, infectious-disease experts said. The milestone comes as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations move higher again in places such as New England and the upper Midwest, with the seven-day average for new cases recently closer to 90,000 a day after it neared 70,000 last month.

Covid-19 has proven to be an enduring threat even in some of the most vaccinated places, many of which are confronting outbreaks again now, as the world prepares to live with and manage the disease for the long term. In Europe, parts of Austria, Germany and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions in recent days after Covid-19 cases rose and hospitals came under strain.

The 2021 U.S. death toll caught some doctors by surprise. They had expected vaccinations and precautionary measures like social distancing and scaled-down public events to curb the spread of infections and minimize severe cases. But lower-than-expected immunization rates as well as fatigue with precautionary measures like masks allowed the highly contagious Delta variant to spread, largely among the unvaccinated, epidemiologists say.

“Heading into this year, we knew what we needed to do, but it was a failure of getting it done,” said Abraar Karan, an infectious-diseases doctor at Stanford University.

Among missteps, Dr. Karan said, public-health officials failed to effectively communicate that the purpose of vaccines is to protect against severe cases of Covid-19 rather than to prevent the spread of infection entirely, which may have led some to doubt the effectiveness of the shots. Authorities also failed to use testing to effectively prevent super-spreader events, Dr. Karan said.

Joey Rodriguez, a high school soccer coach in Arlington, Texas, died from Covid-19 complications in October. The 44-year-old father of three was fully vaccinated but had a rare immune-system condition that made him more vulnerable to infections.

He fell ill in August with what seemed like a sinus infection, his wife, Lena Rodriguez, said. When he died after weeks of intubation, some of his friends who had harbored doubts about the severity of the pandemic and the importance of vaccines changed their minds about the risks of Covid-19 and began to take a more cautious approach to the disease, she said.

“It definitely opened a lot of eyes that this pandemic is very real,” Ms. Rodriguez said.

The Journal calculated when the number of known Covid-19 deaths in 2021 surpassed 2020’s figure by using Johns Hopkins and CDC data. The Johns Hopkins numbers reflect a near-real-time count from states, but can lag behind when deaths actually occurred. CDC death-certificate data don’t track the changing pandemic as quickly, but do reflect the actual day of death.

The CDC’s count for 2020 may grow with further revisions. These records are also close to showing more deaths in 2021.

Comparing the two pandemic years is imperfect because the first coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. weren’t recorded until February 2020, while 2021 began in the grips of a wintertime surge. During just one week in January, the U.S. recorded a peak of nearly 26,000 Covid-19 deaths, CDC data show.

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