After a minor late-spring lull, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States is once again on the rise. States like Arizona, Florida and Texas are seeing some of their highest numbers to date, and as the nation hurtles further into summer, the surge shows few signs of stopping.
And yet the virus appears to be killing fewer of the people it infects. In April and May, Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, led to as many as 3,000 deaths per day, and claimed the lives of roughly 7 to 8 percent of Americans known to have been infected. The number of daily deaths is now closer to 600, and the death rate is less than 5 percent.
In general, experts see three broad reasons for the downward trend in the rate of coronavirus deaths: testing, treatment and a shift in whom the virus is infecting. The relative contribution of these factors is not yet clear. And because death reports can lag diagnoses by weeks, the current rise in coronavirus cases could still portend increases in mortality in the days to come.
Experts can’t be sure, but behaviors like mask wearing, physical distancing and hygiene may also be reducing the dose of coronavirus that people encounter in the population at large, Dr. Dean said. The amount of virus that individuals carry may influence the severity of their symptoms. But so far, there is no evidence that this dynamic is contributing to the lower mortality rate in the United States.
There is also no indication that the death rate is lower because the coronavirus itself has become less deadly, Dr. Ogbunu said. Mutation is a normal part of any virus’s evolutionary trajectory, but these genetic changes are often inconsequential.
“Death is not the only outcome,” Dr. Dean said. And people marginalized by race, ethnicity and social standing will inevitably bear more of the disease burden than others, Dr. Tsai added. “The risk and the mortality is going to be passed on to the most vulnerable, no matter who gets infected first,” she said.
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