After 15 months of almost daily reports of deaths from Covid-19, Western New York has reached a remarkable landmark: No one died from the virus on 19 of the last 30 days.
The number of people dying in the region from Covid-19 is the lowest it has been since the first death was reported March 24, 2020.
New York State on Friday reported three deaths on Thursday, and none in the five counties in the Western New York region.
The improving mortality picture is due to vaccines and the weather, according to Dr. Thomas A. Russo, chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
"We've done a pretty good job vaccinating the most vulnerable," Russo said, but he added, "We still have some work to be done."
There have been 43,006 deaths in New York State since March 2020. In Western New York, which includes Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties, the death toll stands at 2,519, according to statistics released by New York State.
The coronavirus has claimed 606,531 lives in the United States, and 4 million worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top public health official, has said that in June, 99.2% of Covid deaths in the U.S. could be attributed to those who are unvaccinated.
About 85% of those 65 and older in Erie County have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 59.2% of the total population have received at least one dose, according to Erie County.
Another reason for the decline in Covid-19 cases, and in turn, deaths, is more people are participating in more activities outside in the warmer weather, Russo said.
"Fourth of July cookouts are safer than Thanksgiving dinner inside," he said. "That combination of warm weather and vaccinations has resulted in a relatively low number of new cases."
Cases, and deaths, went down in the region last summer, too. There were 302 deaths in May 2020, 140 deaths in June 2020 and 43 in July 2020.
This year, there were 88 deaths reported in May and 28 deaths reported in June.
With the number of cases down, there are fewer people to spread infection.
"You're less likely to get infected at this point," Russo said, but he added, "We're in good shape, but we're not done with this virus."
Western New York's seven-day average positivity rate – or the percentage of Covid-19 cases that come back positive – was 0.59% Friday, a little lower than the statewide average positivity rate of 0.73%
But as the fall approaches, along with cooler weather, activities will shift indoors, and there may be an increase in the number of cases.
"Those people who are not vaccinated are at risk of getting infected," Russo said.
Just under 685,000 people in Western New York have completed their vaccination series, and 10.71 million in the state are completely vaccinated.
"If you want to minimize deaths, keep pushing vaccines," Russo said.
That's something President Biden was doing Tuesday, when he announced the nation was nearing the goal of 70% of the population with at least one dose of vaccine.
"Covid-19 cases and deaths are down by 90% since January," Biden said. "The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family and the people you care about the most is get vaccinated. The best thing a community can do to protect themselves is to increase vaccination rates."