COVID-19 deaths spike 27% even as new cases decline

Even as the U.S. has seen moderate declines in new COVID-19 cases, the nation experienced a sharp rise in deaths related to the disease last week, according to a new government document reviewed by Yahoo News.

A senior leadership brief dated July 31 said there were 7,631 deaths in the week ranging from July 24 to July 30, a 27.1 percent increase over the previous seven days. The document, which was prepared by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, cited a case fatality rate of 1.7 percent over the past seven days.

Death rates vary among sources due to differences in reporting, as some states count deaths that happened weeks ago but were just confirmed as COVID-related. More than 150,000 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19.

There were 449,482 new cases over the seven days prior to the document’s July 31 publication, a 4.1 percent decrease from the previous week. In all, the case count was moving up in nine states and territories, has plateaued in 20 and was in a downward trajectory in 27.


The positive test rate nationwide over the past week was 8.1 percent, a slight dip below the previous seven-day mark of 8.6 percent. Nearly a quarter of prioritized hospitals had more than 80 percent of their beds filled, which the CDC said had previously been consistent at 17 to 18 percent.

Deaths in the past week have been concentrated mainly in the South and in Western states, with a second CDC document showing deaths per 100,000 residents across much of Washington state, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas.

The CDC now projects the death toll in the U.S. could hit 180,000 by Aug. 22. Dr. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus coordinator, said “anything is possible” when asked about former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s prediction that virus deaths could top 300,000 by the end of the year.

Birx told CNN on Sunday that we have entered a “new phase” with the virus.

“I want to be very clear: What we’re seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread,” she said, adding, “So everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune.”

Birx’s latest warnings come amid increasing criticism for her support of President Trump, who has downplayed the threat of the virus.

“I think the president is spreading disinformation about the virus, and she is his appointee,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Birx Sunday on ABC News. “So I don’t have confidence there, no.”

White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx holds up a mask as she speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the U.S. Department of Education July 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A New York Times report last month described Birx as the “chief evangelist for the idea that the threat from the virus was fading” and who helped push a reopening plan that other experts say came too soon and led to a coronavirus resurgence in many parts of the country.

Even with the rise in deaths from COVID-19, the president has continued to push for schools to reopen in the fall and for states to reopen their economies.

But Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari told CBS News on Sunday morning that a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus could be the quickest way to safely reboot the economy.

“If we were to lock down hard for a month or six weeks, we could get the case count down so that our testing and our contact tracing was actually enough to control it,” Kashkari said.

“If we don’t do that,” he added, “and we just have this raging virus spread throughout the country with flare-ups and local lockdowns for the next year or two, which is entirely possible, we’re going to see many, many more business bankruptcies.”

Jana Winter contributed reporting to this story.


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