ATLANTA — New numbers from the state show Saturday is now the deadliest day of the COVID-19 pandemic so far.
The state reported 191 new COVID-19 deaths. That’s five more than our previous high in February. That brings Georgia’s average of COVID-19 deaths to 103 people every day.
But as deaths go up, cases continue to go down across the state. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 9,490 new COVID-19 cases reported over the weekend.
The seven-day average of cases is now at its lowest point in over a month.
The numbers come on the same day as the U.S. met another grim milestone: COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic did — approximately 675,000.
The U.S. population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country.
But the COVID-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time.
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Like the Spanish flu, the coronavirus may never entirely disappear from our midst. Instead, scientists hope it becomes a mild seasonal bug as human immunity strengthens through vaccination and repeated infection. That could take time.
“We hope it will be like getting a cold, but there’s no guarantee,” said Emory University biologist Rustom Antia, who suggests an optimistic scenario in which this could happen over a few years.
For now, the pandemic still has the United States and other parts of the world firmly in its jaws.
While the delta-fueled surge in infections may have peaked, U.S. deaths are running at over 1,900 a day on average, the highest level since early March, and the country’s overall toll topped 675,000 Monday, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the real number is believed to be higher.
Winter may bring a new surge, with the University of Washington’s influential model projecting an additional 100,000 or so Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, which would bring the overall U.S. toll to 776,000.
Globally, about 43% of the population has received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data, with some African countries just beginning to give their first shots.
“We know that all pandemics come to an end,” said Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care research at the National Institutes of Health, who wrote a book on influenza. “They can do terrible things while they’re raging.”
COVID-19 could have been far less lethal in the U.S. if more people had gotten vaccinated faster, “and we still have an opportunity to turn it around,” Brown said. “We often lose sight of how lucky we are to take these things for granted.”
The current vaccines work extremely well in preventing severe disease and death from the variants of the virus that have emerged so far.
It will be crucial for scientists to make sure the ever-mutating virus hasn’t changed enough to evade vaccines or to cause severe illness in unvaccinated children, Antia said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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