Sara Atkins holds the ashes of Alex "Lenny" Lloyd, who died of COVID-19, during a protest outside the Capitol calling for the passage of a pandemic preparedness bill on Wednesday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The United States has passed another COVID-19 milestone: Deaths in 2021 have surpassed the total number of fatalities from the virus in 2020.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of late Sunday showed a total of 770,461 people have died of the coronavirus since February 2020, when that information began to be recorded. In 2020, there were an estimated 377,883 fatalities compared with about 392,578 in 2021 thus far.
About 59.1 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated.
The CDC said Friday the seven-day average of daily new cases was 88,482, a 16.1% increase from the previous week. "The level of community transmission in the U.S. remains high and cases are increasing," the agency said.
As cases have spiked in recent weeks, the Upper Midwest region has been hit particularly hard.
"I have never seen so many people on a ventilator at one time," Dr. Joshua Huelster, a critical care physician at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, told CBS News.
The Delta variant combined with some 40 percent of Americans still unvaccinated continue to be a challenge to slow the spread of COVID-19, many experts say.
Dr. Tom Friedan, a former CDC commissioner and former commissioner of health in New York City, said Sunday: "Delta is different, and targets the unvaccinated for hospitalization and death. We, too, must adapt. We must use all the tools we have, including vaccines, masks, ventilation and proven treatments, to outmatch the virus."
On Friday, the CDC's advisory panel authorized booster shots for anyone over the age of 18.
"The increase in protection you get from a boost over and above the original vaccination is substantial," Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said in an MSNBC interview on Monday.
As for the recent spike in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, Fauci said, "The people who are in the hospital, the people who are in the ICUs and the people who die are overwhelmingly weighted toward the unvaccinated. That's been that way all along."
According to the Mayo Clinic, the states with the lowest vaccination rates, in order, include West Virginia, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi and North Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia. All of them show that less than 50 percent of their populations are fully vaccinated.
But even in states like Colorado, where there is a high vaccination rate, there has been a surge in cases.
"Colorado has the fifth-highest seven-day, per-capita coronavirus case count in the United States, and state forecasters say it's going to get worse before it gets better," according to a report in early November by the University of Colorado Health System. "Yet the state's vaccination rate ranks among the top one-third in the country, with about 72% of the state's eligible population now fully vaccinated.