Coronavirus deaths in the United States surpassed 450,000 on Thursday, and daily deaths remain stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day, despite falling infections and the arrival of multiple vaccines. Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year. New Covid-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week, said the new director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. But there’s also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalisations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together – including this Sunday, to watch football, she added. “I’m worried about Super Bowl Sunday, quite honestly,” Dr Rochelle Walensky said. Deadliest month in US ends with signs of progress in pandemic battle Walensky said one reason cases and hospitalisations were not rising as dramatically as they were weeks ago is because the effect of holiday gatherings has faded. The effect on deaths is delayed. The daily toll amounts to 50,000 new fatalities in the last two weeks alone. “We’re still in quite a bad place,” she said. The nation reported 3,912 Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, down from the pandemic peak of 4,466 deaths on January 12. The biggest driver to the US death toll over the past month has been California, which has averaged more than 500 deaths per day in recent weeks. California’s experience has mirrored many of the inequalities that have been exposed since the pandemic began nearly a year ago, with people of colour being hit especially hard. For example, Latinos make up 46 per cent of California’s overall death toll, despite being 39 per cent of the state’s population. The situation has worsened in recent months. In November, the daily number of Latino deaths was 3.5 per 100,000 residents, but that rate shot up to 40 deaths per 100,000 last week. Alabama is another hotspot. The seven-day rolling average of deaths there has risen over the past two weeks, from 74 to 147 deaths per day. Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee also saw surges in deaths. Bill Gates calls coronavirus conspiracies ‘crazy and evil’ The hardest hit demographic groups continue to be the oldest and frailest, said Dr Thomas Holland of Duke University. While most people who become infected will recover, others face a much longer road. It can take a week or two to get sick enough to end up in hospital. Then, those who are severely ill may end up in an ICU for many weeks, and some will die. “The patients who don’t do well are often in for these long and very stormy courses, and the patients who die, that’s typically weeks into their hospital stay,” Holland said. Treatments have evolved for Covid-19 over time, but there have not been any “game-changing miracle treatments” on par with the development of the vaccine, Holland said. “We’ve had things on the margin that are helpful,” Holland said. Pandemic baby boom? It’s a bust despite coronavirus lockdowns Among those, the use of steroids for patients who require oxygen, different ventilator strategies and preventing and managing blood clots. There’s also the use of monoclonal antibodies for outpatients early in their illness who do not need to be on oxygen, but who might be at higher risk of complications. Looking forward, the big concern is how the virus is changing, shifting into new strains that are potentially more infectious and better able to evade antibody products obidr to make vaccines less effective. Meanwhile, the US Senate early on Friday passed a budget plan that would allow for passage of President Joe Biden’s US$1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package in the coming weeks without Republican support. Vice-President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie by casting a vote in favour of the Democratic measure, sending it to the House of Representatives for final approval. Separate, more detailed legislation still would have to be crafted and passed to carry out Biden’s coronavirus-relief bill, which also could provide more time for negotiations with Republicans.