US COVID-19 cases, deaths drop to lowest levels in a year

Masked waitress cleaning table
Masked waitress cleaning table

Drazen Zigic / iStock

Today Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the 7-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths—546—is now the lowest level recorded since March of 2020, when the pandemic was just beginning in most parts of the country.

"We should all have cautious optimism," Walensky said during a White House press briefing on the pandemic.

The United States reported 29,387 new COVID-19 cases and 385 deaths yesterday, according to the New York Times. Walensky said these numbers were last seen in June of 2020, and the 7-day average of hospitalizations was 3,500, down 18% from the previous week.

In less than 1 week, 600,000 12- to 15-year-olds received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and overall 4.1 million adolescents 12 to 17 have had at least one vaccine dose. The nation is averaging 1.5 million to 2 million vaccines administered daily and has thus far administered 274 million vaccines.

Hospitalizations increase in young adults

Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID response, began the briefing by addressing young adults, as though in a commencement address. He said getting vaccinated was the most important thing young people could do right now, and shared that his young adult son contracted COVID-19 in the fall and is still suffering from symptoms of "long COVID."

"You have the power to help your country and the world, right now," Slavitt said.

Though the pandemic is shrinking by all measures in the United States, the people who are getting sick and hospitalized are skewing younger.

According to national data analyzed by the Wall Street Journal, US hospitals are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients, but the ones who do end up hospitalized are ages 50 and younger. Patients between 18 and 49 now account for 36% of hospitalizations, a 15.5-percentage-point increase from early January.

This could change as some states have only been vaccinating those 18 and older for a few weeks; whereas older Americans have had 3 months to get vaccinated.

States take different approaches to mask mandates

While several states last week lifted mask mandates, others have outlined a stepwise approach to loosing local restrictions.

California health officials said yesterday that the state will wait until its planned Jun 15 reopening to let fully vaccinated people take off their masks in most indoor settings, KQED reports.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yesterday that all mask mandates and social distancing rules will lift tomorrow for those who are fully vaccinated. Nursing homes, pre-K to 12 schools, public transit, and healthcare settings will still require masks for all people.

"The people of New York and visitors alike should take solace in the lifting of mask requirements, but be respectful of those who may still feel safest wearing their mask in public and business owners who may still ask patrons to don their mask," Cuomo said.

In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday signed an executive order ending the state's mask requirement in outdoor public spaces. The mask requirement for indoor public spaces and workplaces remains in effect.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told CNN yesterday that he believes that without a verification system to prove who has and hasn't been vaccinated, it will be difficult for local health officials and businesses to enforce the CDC's guidance on masking.

"I say this respectfully to the CDC, but we really need to get back to a point where it's encouraging [people] to get vaccinated and more of that focus rather than celebrating our newfound freedoms," Lucas said. "Because the honor system just ain't working here, I don't think it's going to work in a lot of parts in this country."

This week's top reads