As the U.S. headed into the first weekend of October, the country surpassed a grim milestone: so far 700,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to the New York Times.
Earlier this year, some had hopes that the worst of the pandemic was over as vaccines started to become available to the public. However, the highly contagious Delta variant of the vaccine fueled a summer surge, especially in parts of the South with low vaccination rates.
Most Americans who have died in recent months have been unvaccinated and the U.S. has one of the highest death rates for a country with ample vaccine supply, said the New York Times. Many of the deaths were reported in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, and rural areas had higher death rates said the outlet. Deaths have just started to slow down in some of those areas.
“This Delta wave just rips through the unvaccinated,” said Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. He said these deaths were “absolutely needless.”
As unvaccinated people began to make up most of those infected with COVID-19, the demographics of those with the virus also changed.
While elderly people were considered the most vulnerable when the pandemic first took hold last year, high vaccination rates have kept them somewhat protected from the recent surge.
In August, all age groups of people aged 55 and younger had their highest death tolls of the pandemic, according to the New York Times.
Brandee Stripling, a 38-year-old bartender and single mother from Cottondale, Ala., was one of is one of the 100,000 to die from COVID-19 since mid-June. She was unvaccinated, but young and even her boss thought she would be able to fight off the virus.
Instead, he found himself at her funeral last month.
Wayne Bright, a funeral home director in Tampa, Fla., has also been overtaxed due to an influx of COVID-19 deaths this summer. He’s been working seven days a week and dealing with issues such as coffin shortages.
“Now you’re dealing with people in their 30s and 40s and 50s,” he said. “These are people who, without the pandemic, they would almost certainly be alive and live full lives. It’s so much worse now than it was when the pandemic first happened. The Delta variant is tremendously worse. It would be hard for me to define just how much worse it is.”
Of the deaths 100,000 recent deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40 percent were under 65 years old and that 2,900 were fully vaccinated individuals. Vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death, according to the CDC. In the wake of the Delta variant, the centers have found that unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to die.
Yet, only 65 percent of the eligible U.S. population is fully vaccinated. According to the New York Times, vaccination efforts have been hampered by misinformation and conservative anti-vaccine commentators questioning the safety of the vaccines.
People in their 30s also have low vaccination rates.
Stephen Kimmel, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, said younger people are more vulnerable because now that they are increasingly interacting with one another and have low vaccination rates.
“Younger people now feel this is a virus that won’t affect them.”
With the summer surge, the New York Times said the COVID-19 pandemic is the deadliest in U.S. history. Previously, that title has held by the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919, which killed approximately 675,000 people.