The number of deaths per day from the coronavirus in the U.S. has fallen in recent weeks to the lowest level since late March, even as states increasingly reopen for business. But scientists are deeply afraid the trend may be about to reverse itself.
“For now, it’s too soon to be reassured that deaths are going down and everything’s OK,” said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar of Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent epidemics.
Deaths from COVID-19 across the country are down to about 680 a day, compared with around 960 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The analysis looked at a seven-day rolling average of deaths through Wednesday.
A multitude of reasons are believed to be at play, including the advent of effective treatments and improved efforts at hospitals and nursing homes to prevent infections and save lives.
But already there are warning signs.
For one thing, the number of newly confirmed cases per day has risen from about 21,400 two weeks ago to 23,200, the AP analysis found.
And in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona — states that loosened their stay-at-home restrictions early — daily deaths have been quietly rising since early June, said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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“These are not numbers. These are human beings,” Mokdad said. “We’re going to see a rise in deaths in many places in the United States.”
The outbreak has killed about 118,000 people in the U.S. and nearly a half-million worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins’ count, though the real numbers are believed to be higher. Potential vaccines are in early stages of testing, and it is unlikely any will be ready before early next year.
Experts note that a rise in deaths could take awhile to show up in the U.S. statistics. Stay-at-home orders imposed in March, combined with the use of face masks and other social-distancing measures, have been bringing down the daily death toll since mid-April, and the U.S. as a whole is still seeing the positive effects, even though people are starting to work, shop and eat out again.
Doctors watching for an uptick in deaths will be on the alert for certain signals to emerge in a specific order, Shahpar said.