The U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 600,000 on Wednesday, even as the country’s vaccination campaign is finally curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve made enormous progress in the United States. Much of the country is returning to normal, and our economic growth is leading the world, and the number of cases and deaths are dropping dramatically. But there’s still too many lives being lost,” President Joe Biden said Monday in Belgium, where he was meeting with world leaders.
“We have more work to do to beat this virus, and now is not the time to let our guard down. So, please — please get vaccinated as soon as possible. We’ve had enough pain,” Biden added.
In a statistical sign that the national death rate is indeed slowing, it has been nearly four months since the United States topped 500,000 deaths, while it took just over one month for the U.S. death toll to surge from 400,000 to 500,000 this past winter.
As hospitalizations and deaths have continued to drop, a growing number of states are ending many of the social distancing measures that have become emblematic of the pandemic. California and New York on Tuesday fully reopened as vaccination rates in those states reached target goals.
In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott said his state would end all restrictions because more than 8 in 10 eligible residents have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, CBS News reported.
“It is safe because Vermonters have done their part to keep spread of the virus low throughout the pandemic and stepped up to get vaccinated. In fact, no state in the nation is in a better or safer position to do this than we are,” Scott said in a statement.
Behind Vermont, 13 states and the District of Columbia have delivered at least one dose to at least 70% of their adult residents, CBS News reported. Almost 65% of American adults have had at least one dose nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the pace of vaccinations has slowed. Only around 350,000 Americans are getting their first vaccine dose each day , according to recent CDC figures — the lowest recorded pace of shots since vaccination efforts first began late last year, CBS News reported.
In the meantime, U.S. health officials have stepped up warnings about faster-spreading coronavirus variants. While studies suggest all of the vaccines authorized in the United States remain effective against all “variants of concern,” federal health officials have warned of lower effectiveness in those who have not yet gotten their second dose.
On Monday, the CDC joined other public health organizations around the world in classifying the so-called Delta variant as a “variant of concern.” Projections published by the CDC on Tuesday estimate the strain that first emerged in India has surged to account for about 1 in 10 cases in this country, up from less than 3% at the end of May, CBS News reported.
After COVID, many American struck by new maladies
Suffering through a case of COVID-19 unleashed a host of other health problems in hundreds of thousands of Americans participating in the largest study yet of the long-term effects of coronavirus infection.
Tracking the health insurance records of nearly 2 million people who caught the coronavirus last year, researchers found that one month or more after their infection, almost one-quarter of them sought medical treatment for new conditions, The New York Times reported.
The range of both those affected and the symptoms that struck them was wide. The health issues affected all ages, including children. The most common new health problems were pain; breathing difficulties; high cholesterol; malaise and fatigue; and high blood pressure. But symptoms did not stop there: Some suffered intestinal symptoms; migraines; skin problems; heart abnormalities; sleep disorders; and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Post-COVID health problems did not spare those who had not been seriously ill: While nearly half of patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19 experienced subsequent medical issues, so did 27 percent of people who had mild or moderate symptoms and 19 percent of people who said they were asymptomatic.
“One thing that was surprising to us was the large percentage of asymptomatic patients that are in that category of long COVID,” Robin Gelburd, president of the nonprofit FAIR Health, told the Times.
In total, the report found that more than 454,000 people consulted health providers for symptoms 30 days or more after their infection. The analysis was evaluated by an independent academic reviewer but was not formally peer-reviewed, according to FAIR Health.
“The strength of this study is really its size and its ability to look across the range of disease severity in a diversity of age groups,” Dr. Helen Chu, an associate professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, told the Times.
The report “drives home the point that long COVID can affect nearly every organ system,” Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of the research and development service at the VA St. Louis Health Care System, told the Times.
“Some of these manifestations are chronic conditions that will last a lifetime and will forever scar some individuals and families,” added Al-Aly, who authored a large study published in April on lingering symptoms in COVID-19 patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system.
In the latest report, the most common issue for which patients sought medical care was pain — including nerve inflammation and aches and pains associated with nerves and muscles. It was reported by more than a fifth of those who reported post-COVID problems. Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath, were experienced by 3.5 percent of post-COVID patients.
Nearly 3 percent of patients sought treatment for symptoms that were labeled with diagnostic codes for malaise and fatigue, a far-reaching category that could include issues like brain fog and exhaustion that worsens after physical or mental activity, the Times reported.
The database included only people with private health insurance or Medicare Advantage, not those uninsured or covered by Medicare Parts A, B and D, Medicaid or other government health programs. Chu told the Times that people without insurance or with incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid are often “more likely to have worse outcomes.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 vaccinations.
SOURCE: CBS News; The New York Times; Washington Post