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COVID deaths in 2021 have surpassed those in 2020, according to Johns Hopkins data

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In explaining the death increase, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president for COVID-19, cited the delta variant, "which is very, very different from the original variants that we were dealing with before."

Johns Hopkins' dashboard reports 771,045 deaths since the pandemic began. According to the CDC, 385,343 deaths occurred last year, which would mean 385,702 have happened so far this year.

Data from Johns Hopkins University show that recorded U.S. deaths related to COVID-19 in 2021 have surpassed those from 2020, even as vaccines have been widely available for most of the year.

As of Sunday, the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 data dashboard reported that there have been 771,045 total coronavirus deaths in the U.S. throughout the course of the pandemic.

According to the CDC, 385,343 deaths occurred last year, which would mean that the remaining fatalities — 385,702 — happened in 2021.

But official CDC data has not yet caught up with the university's tally. The agency said 382,861 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. so far this year.

Johns Hopkins gets its data directly from state and county health authorities. News of the latest deaths milestone was reported Saturday by the Wall Street Journal.

In explaining the death increase, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president for COVID-19, cited the delta variant of the disease, "which is very, very different from the original variants that we were dealing with before."

"This is a virus that is highly transmissible," he said Sunday in a interview with ABC's This Week. "The more people that get infected, the more people are going to get hospitalized. The more people they get hospitalized, the more people are going to die."

Fauci also said a major difference between this holiday season and last year's is the availability of vaccines,

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week endorsed COVID-19 booster shots for all adults who were fully vaccinated. But as to whether we'll need boosters of the coronavirus vaccine this frequently for the foreseeable future, experts say the jury is still out.

"We would hope — and this is something that we're looking at very carefully — that that third shot with the mRNA [vaccines] not only boosts you way up but increases the durability so that you will not necessarily need it every six months or a year," Fauci said.

"We're hoping it pushes it out more. If it doesn't, and the data show we do need it more often, then we'll do it."

Fauci was also asked about the governors of Connecticut and New Mexico saying that people are no longer considered fully vaccinated until they've gotten booster shots. He said the federal definition of fully vaccinated remains unchanged: two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot.

The Johns Hopkins update comes as the U.S. is approaching its second Thanksgiving during the pandemic, and cases are rising again.

The CDC reported that, as of Thursday, the seven-day daily average of new infections was 88,482, a 16.1% jump over the prior week.

Public health experts say families that are fully vaccinated can enjoy a normal Thanksgiving together, and they're urging those who have not yet gotten the shot to do so.

"If you're vaccinated -- and hopefully, you'll be boosted, too -- and your family is, you can enjoy a typical Thanksgiving meal or Thanksgiving holiday with your family," Fauci said. "The thing we are concerned about is the people who are not vaccinated, because what they're doing is, they're the major source of the dynamics of the infection in the community. And the higher the level of dynamics of infection, the more everyone is at risk."

Information from NPR's Joe Hernandez was used in this report.