The average number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths this week surpassed the height of the delta surge earlier this fall and is at its highest point since last winter, when the nation was coming out of the peak winter surge.

The seven-day average of deaths hit 2,166 on Monday, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Average daily deaths in mid-September before the omicron variant was discovered peaked at around 1,900.

While increasing evidence shows omicron may be less likely to cause death or serious illness than delta, the sheer infectiousness and the speed at which it spreads has overwhelmed hospitals, primarily with people who have not been vaccinated.

The U.S. saw the highest numbers of deaths in the pandemic just over a year ago, before vaccines were widely available, when the daily average reached 3,400. The last time the U.S. topped 2,000 deaths was last February, as the country was slowly coming down from the January peak.

The fact that the omicron variant tends to cause less severe disease on average also helped avoid an even greater crisis that would have occurred if it was as severe as the delta variant. 

“Strikingly, when we compare the past month when omicron was the predominant variant, we see a clear separation between cases, hospital admissions and deaths. And while cases have dramatically increased and are five times higher than they were during the delta wave, hospitalizations have not increased at the same rate, and deaths remain low in comparison to the case counts,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing Wednesday.

Tags CDC COVID-19 Deaths Rochelle Walensky

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