US COVID-19 death outlook improves as drop exceeds forecasts

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The decline in COVID-19 fatalities is exceeding expectations in the US, and virus modelers are revising forecasts to reflect a more optimistic outlook heading into March.

The country is expected to have about 7,922 such deaths in the week ending March 20, the lowest since the first week of November, according to the University of Massachusetts’ Reich Lab Covid-19 Forecast Hub, which issued a 28-day forecast on Tuesday based on dozens of independent models.

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The Reich Lab’s contributors sharply cut projections for the coming three weeks after deaths last week came in at 4,318 fewer than expected.

The development comes on a week when the US officially recorded its 500,000th fatality from the virus, punctuating a period unlike any since the 1918 influenza pandemic.

A confluence of circumstances have probably contributed to the fall in cases and eventually deaths, a lagging indicator. Mask-wearing in the US improved after a December surge, according to survey data compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Analysis.

There also have been other less tangible factors, including past infections, which have been shown to confer a degree of immunity for months. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 83.1 million people in the country -- a quarter of the population -- had been infected with the virus as of mid-January.

Now, authorities are warily watching the arrival of faster-spreading Covid-19 variants and trying to head off resurgences with the deployment of vaccines.

The vaccination push may not have been a catalyst for the initial drop in cases, but 13.3 percent of the population has now received at least one shot, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Those have overwhelmingly gone to the Americans at the highest risk of death and severe disease.

The US posted 54,612 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, bringing the seven-day average down to 70,766, about 62 percent lower than the rate a month earlier, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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