(The Hill) – As the U.S. marks Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer, the seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are more than six times what they were a year ago.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center showed a seven-day average of 119,725 cases as of Saturday. That figure held at 17,887 cases on May 28 of last year. 

Despite the rising infection rate, COVID-related deaths were down from last year, a sign of increased immunity through vaccines and prior infections, along with wider availability of treatments.

The seven-day average of 470 deaths reported on Friday marked a decrease from 637 on the same day last year. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that about 54 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing low COVID-19 community levels, though some areas are seeing medium and high levels.

But the more than fivefold increase in infections comes as health experts have warned Americans to exercise caution ahead of a possible surge. 

Almost a month ago, Deborah Birx, a leading member of the Trump administration’s White House coronavirus task force, said that Americans should be “preparing right now for a potential surge in this summer across the southern United States.” 

Bill Gates has warned that it is possible that the worst of this pandemic has not yet occurred, pressing for more investments needed to prevent a future pandemic.

“We’re still at risk of this pandemic generating a variant that would be even more transmissive and even more fatal,” he said. “It’s not likely, I don’t want to be a voice of doom and gloom, but it’s way above a 5 percent risk that this pandemic, we haven’t even seen the worst of it.”

Still, current COVID-19 case numbers are well below peaks this winter, when the highly transmissible omicron variant contributed to a widespread uptick in inflections.