Oakland First Fridays returns as omicron recedes, U.S. COVID deaths hit 900k

The COVID-19 death toll has reached 900,000 people in the U.S., with the most recent 100,000 lives lost in a short period since mid-December.

"It's a huge number. There are roughly 2.5 million deaths a year in the United States, so this is added on top of them," said Dr. George Rutherford, a UCSF professor of epidemiology.  

Early in the pandemic, some people compared COVID-19 to influenza, but Dr. Rutherford says the 900,000 COVID-19 deaths far exceed the estimated 72,000 influenza deaths in the U.S. over a two-year period.

Many experts say vaccinations and booster shots are a big factor in the recent decline of COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths during this latest surge of the omicron variant.

"Boosting doubles the effectiveness of the vaccine for omicron," said Dr. Rutherford.

Many people say they're finding ways to resume favorite activities.

In downtown Oakland, the First Fridays street fair returned after being shut down last month due to COVID-19.

"It feels awesome to be back out again. It's also great that the numbers are going down. It helps us put the event on," said Greg Harris, the event director of Oakland First Fridays, who added that they included COVID testing tents at the street fair to help the community.

Girls with the Heat Danceline group wore clear plastic masks facing a crowd of onlookers who were also masked.

"I think everyone's excited just to get out. Everybody's excited to get out and have some fun," said Sergio Oseguera, owner of Big Serg BBQ, who sets up shop every First Friday.

"I'm one of the people who convinced all of my friends to get vaccinated. It wasn't easy. We don't trust the government," said Ayodele Shangoshola of Oakland.

Some say they've had friends or family who've caught COVID.

SEE ALSO: Vaccination proof required to eat inside Oakland restaurants

"Well, I lost two family members, but we're over the hump no," said Lauren Paese, a San Francisco resident who says she took BART over to attend the Oakland First Friday, "I'm not wearing a mask outside. I'm feeling good. Boosted, And ready to hang out."

Contra Costa became the latest county to ease restrictions. On Friday, officials announced they are lifting proof of vaccine requirements at some indoor locations.

"The reason we took this step is the hospitalization rate is starting to stabilize," said Dr. Ori Tzvieli, acting health officer of Contra Costa County.

Many people wonder what the future will look like with COVID-19.

"COVID-19 is circulating year-round right now. I think eventually it will become a wintertime disease," said Dr. Rutherford, "We need to get the therapeutics ramped up, get them distributed, get them into the hands of patients who need them. I think we need more testing capacity. I think we're going to continue to need to be vaccinating people well into the future."

Currently, according to the CDC, about sixty-four percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and about 26% have gotten a booster shot.

The FDA is scheduled to meet February 15 to consider expanding COVID vaccine shots to children under five.

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@fox.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana or ktvu.com.