Virus outlook: Wary US keeps eye on transformed COVID-19

The fast-changing coronavirus has kicked off summer in the U.S. with lots of infections but relatively few deaths compared to its prior incarnations.

COVID-19 is still killing hundreds of Americans each day, but is not nearly as dangerous as it was last fall and winter.

“It’s going to be a good summer and we deserve this break,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

With more Americans shielded from severe illness through vaccination and infection, COVID-19 has transformed — for now at least — into an unpleasant, inconvenient nuisance for many.

“It feels cautiously good right now,” said Dr. Dan Kaul, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

As the nation marks July Fourth, the average number of daily deaths from COVID-19 in the United States is hovering around 360. Last year, during a similar summer lull, it was around 228 in early July. That remains the lowest threshold in U.S. daily deaths since March 2020, when the virus first began its U.S. spread.

U.S. regulators told COVID-19 vaccine makers that any booster shots tweaked for the fall will have to add protection against the newest omicron relatives.

The Food and Drug Administration said the original vaccines would be used for anyone still getting their first series of shots. But with immunity waning and the super-contagious omicron family of variants getting better at dodging protection, the FDA decided boosters intended for fall needed an update.

Treatments are improving. After being infected with COVID-19 earlier this month, Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president and director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, experienced a rebound after taking the antiviral pill Paxlovid and said the drug kept him out of the hospital.

Things are not as rosy everywhere in the world. Tourism is booming again in France — and so is COVID-19 and hospitalizations. French officials have “invited” or “recommended” people to go back to using face masks.

North Korea, still struggling with a more serious COVID-19 outbreak, claims the epidemic began in people who had contact with balloons flown from South Korea — a highly questionable claim tied to increasing tensions over its nuclear program.