US COVID-19 deaths in 2021 surpass 2020's toll

COVID-19 deaths in 2021 surpassed the total from 2020 this week, with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data showing cases rising around the country ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

There have been 771,576 deaths due to the virus since the pandemic started, though that number is currently trending downward. Since Jan. 1 of this year, 386,233 people have died due to the virus, compared with last year's toll of 385,343.

In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to an April CDC report on provisional mortality data in the U.S., and figures only account for reported deaths.

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The global death toll from the pandemic topped 5 million on Monday.

The U.S. is averaging more than 90,000 new infections daily and total cases number in the tens of millions.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Monday that the seven-day average of reported coronavirus infections has increased by 18%.

Connecticut, for example, is experiencing a more rapid increase in cases than any other state, averaging 738 daily cases over the last week.

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The state’s seven-day positivity rate of 3.07% is the highest since early September, and average daily cases are the highest since mid-September. 

According to state data, unvaccinated residents are four times more likely to test positive than those who are vaccinated and make up the vast majority of those hospitalized with serious symptoms.

As of last week, 74% of all residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the state.

Doctors have said that the spike is a sign that residents need to be more cautious and continue to follow best practices like masking.

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"We need to embrace normalcy at this point, but we need to be smart about it," Dr. Ulysses Wu, an infectious disease specialist at Hartford HealthCare, told the Hartford Courant. "Who are the people you are going to be hanging out with, how many people are going to be coming, and what is their vaccination status?"

Four of the five states with the highest recent increase in virus cases are in New England, the newspaper said.

Other hot spots have developed in cold-weather states like Michigan, Minnesota and New York, causing hospitals to scramble. 

Walensky and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci have pushed for the roughly 60 million unvaccinated Americans to get the shot, and last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDC recommended booster shots for all adults 18 and older who received a Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least six months after their second dose.

More than 36 million people have already received a dose of vaccine beyond their original vaccination.

While all three vaccines used in the U.S. continue to offer strong protection against severe COVID-19 illness and death, the shots’ effectiveness against milder infection can wane over time.

"Heading into the winter months, when respiratory viruses are more likely to spread, and with plans for increased holiday season travel and gatherings, boosting people’s overall protection against COVID-19 disease and death was important to do now," Walensky said.

"Most tragic are the vaccine-preventable deaths we are still seeing from this disease," she said. "Even in our updated data, unvaccinated people are at 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19 than people who are vaccinated."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Read more of this story on FOX News