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COVID-19 deaths hit 3-year low as U.S. cases and hospitalizations fall

As the United States marks the third anniversary of the pandemic, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to fall at a dramatic rate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly coronavirus report released on Friday — the fourth-to-last before the report is discontinued — the number of reported cases in the U.S. decreased by 19.7% to 21,422 a day, compared with 26,685 in the previous week. The seven-day average for new hospital admissions was down 9.5% — 2,757 a day versus 3,046 last week. That compares with a peak of 22,000 per day during the omicron surge in early 2022. 

This week marked the fewest weekly COVID deaths in the U.S. since March 25, 2020. As of Wednesday, the country has recorded 1,121,512 deaths from COVID since the start of the pandemic. The number of people who died last week fell by 18.8%, but the virus is still claiming the lives of about 244 people every day.

The CDC estimates that the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant makes up approximately 90.2% of circulating lineages, while other virus strains have very slow or no growth in proportion. The offspring XBB.1.5.1 strain, which the agency started tracking as a variant of concern last week, was sequenced in just 2.2% of cases.

Approximately 88.7% of counties across the U.S. now have a “low” COVID-19 community level, according to the CDC’s metric for measuring the presence of disease around the country. The number of counties with “high” and “medium” levels fell by 0.4 and 3.4 percentage points, respectively. However, among the 50 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico, 38 had at least one county with high or medium virus levels last week.

As of Wednesday, about 69.3% of people in the U.S. had completed the primary vaccination series, but only 16.2% had received an updated bivalent booster dose. The percentage of laboratory COVID-19 tests that were positive decreased compared with the previous week, with a seven-day average of 7.2% positivity. However, fewer people are taking tests that are publicly reported as more get by with home test kits: The official test count for the week ending March 9 was just 178,921, down 20.8% from 225,960 a week earlier.

A more accurate snapshot may be provided by wastewater surveillance, which captures community coronavirus levels regardless of testing. The latest U.S. figures show about 51% of sites reporting less SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in their sewage, while 38% are reporting more. Overall, about 53% of sites across the country are reporting moderate to high SARS-CoV-2 levels, and 20% say they’re seeing some of their highest levels Dec. 1, 2021.

The latest figures from the California Department of Public Health reflect the nationwide trends but at a slower pace. The state reported an average of 2,295 new daily cases — or about 5.7 per 100,000 residents — as of Thursday, compared to 2,612 cases per day, or 6.5 per 100,000 residents the week before. The state’s seven-day rolling coronavirus test positivity rate inched down to 5.7% from 5.9%.

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