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Coronavirus infections are higher than ever, but COVID-19 deaths are not. Why?

By Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

For months, epidemiologists have predicted a spike in COVID-19 cases as winter approaches. Now it appears those dark forecasts were all too accurate.

Coronavirus infections are rising across much of the United States, with the number of new daily cases nearing 200,000 for the past several days. That's about five times the number of new daily cases the U.S. was reporting as recently as September, according to the World Health Organization.

In California, the average number of new coronavirus cases has tripled in the last month alone. The virus is now infecting more Californians every day than at any previous point in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Times analysis.

While the federal government continues to take a relatively hands-off approach, state and local governments have become more aggressive in hopes of bending the curve on new cases.

In response to growing case numbers, California imposed a statewide 10 p.m. curfew to keep people from gathering and drinking together late at night. New York City closed its public schools for in-person learning less than two months after they reopened. Even Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a longtime opponent of mask mandates, imposed one last week after 50% of Iowans who were tested for the virus got a positive result.

But as infections spiraled to never-before-seen heights, the number of COVID-19 deaths per day has not followed suit.


In early April, the U.S. reported about 30,000 new infections and about 2,000 deaths per day, according to the WHO. That's about the same number of deaths that are being reported now — though daily new cases are more than six times higher.

What exactly is going on? The more coronavirus cases that are reported, the more COVID-19 deaths we'd expect to see, right?

The answer is both yes and no, experts said.

The general consensus is that the number of deaths will eventually follow infections in their upward trajectory, but the ratio of deaths per infection will remain significantly lower than it was in the spring.


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