Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Even if you’ve been following news of the virus closely, it can be hard to know which way the pandemic is headed. To help sort it out, I gathered a few charts that give us a clearer picture.

Virus cases, which had been accelerating rapidly since early July, seemed to have leveled out before Labor Day. There was chatter that perhaps the worst of the Delta wave was behind us. The holiday weekend caused case numbers to fluctuate wildly, but now that the dust has settled, the U.S. finds itself in more or less the same place.

“The truth is, we’re right around 150,000 cases per day, which is lower than the peak this summer,” said Mitch Smith, who tracks the virus for The Times. “But that’s still like 50 times higher than we’d like.”

The positive news is that the national case rate is not growing, even at a time when most of the country is open and schools and colleges are back in session. Some of the states that were hit the hardest this summer — including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia — also seem to be turning a corner.

Cases are rising in the Mountain West, the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. But Mitch said he expects case levels to remain well below those seen in the South this summer. We may even see cases decline over the next few weeks.

However, the national outlook appears much more dire when tracking hospitalizations and deaths.

One in four U.S. hospitals now reports more than 95 percent of I.C.U. beds occupied — up from one in five last month. When all or nearly all I.C.U. beds are occupied, experts say it can become difficult to maintain standards of care for the sickest patients.

Most worrying, Mitch said, are the death numbers, and what they will look like in the weeks ahead.

“We’re fast approaching 2,000 deaths a day on average, and we never wanted to be anywhere near that number again,” Mitch said. “Unfortunately, the hospitalization case numbers suggest that the death rate is not going to start going down for a while. And, tragically, we are now closing in on 700,000 total deaths.” (The U.S. recently passed another grim milestone: 1 in 500 residents has now died of Covid-19.)

Unvaccinated Americans are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid than the vaccinated, according to the C.D.C. Several of the states with the highest rates of I.C.U. occupancy, including Alabama and Mississippi, are also among those with the lowest vaccination rates.

Put simply, the vaccines save lives. Unlike most countries, the U.S. has more than enough for everyone. That means many of the recent deaths were preventable.

The New York Times Opinion section set out to quantify how many lives could have been saved during the last wave if all states had managed to vaccinate their residents as quickly as the state with the highest vaccination rate (usually Vermont).

New York Times photographers around the U.S. spent the past six months documenting the coronavirus economy as the early summer veered from a seeming return to normalcy into a much darker and more uncertain situation.

Today, the finish line still feels elusively out of reach. Take a look at what our photographers saw, month by month, here.

I have finally learned that the deep pain and anger I have been dealing with — by being surrounded by many who don’t mask and many who aren’t vaccinated — really comes from the feeling of belonging to a community that doesn’t care about me, my family or others. A community should be a group of people who work together to make a safe and nice place to live. My community is currently the biggest threat to my family, and that is sad. How and when I will get over this, I’m unsure.

— Celeste Huggins, Idaho Falls, Idaho

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