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The United States reached its latest heartbreaking pandemic milestone today, eclipsing 700,000 deaths from COVID-19 just as the surge from the delta variant is starting to slow down and give overwhelmed hospitals some relief.

It took three and a half months to go from 600,000 to 700,000 deaths, driven by the variant’s rampant spread through unvaccinated Americans. The death toll is larger than the population of Boston.

This milestone is especially frustrating for public health leaders and medical professionals on the front lines because vaccines have been available to all eligible Americans for nearly six months and the shots overwhelmingly protect against hospitalisations and death.

An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the variant.

“You lose patients from COVID and it should not happen,” said Debi Delapaz, a nurse manager at UF Health Jacksonville.

Nationwide, the number of people now in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen to somewhere around 75,000 from over 93,000 in early September. New cases are on the downswing at about 112,000 per day on average, a drop of about one-third over the past two and a half weeks.

Deaths, too, appear to be declining, averaging about 1,900 a day versus more than 2,000 about a week ago.

The easing of the summer surge has been attributed to more mask wearing and more people getting vaccinated.

The decrease in case numbers could also be due to the virus having burned through susceptible people and running out of fuel in some places.

AP

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