January 20, 2021

'We could have prevented this': America surpasses 400,000 Covid-19 deaths

Daily Briefing

    America's reported number of deaths linked to the novel coronavirus topped 400,000 on Tuesday. About 55,000 of those deaths occurred just this month, and public health experts anticipate the country will see a surge in newly reported coronavirus deaths in the coming weeks.

    US coronavirus deaths top 400K in less than a year

    It took less than one year for the United States to reach more than 400,000 reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, and the country has reported the highest coronavirus-death total of any country in the world.

    In February 2020, U.S. officials began reporting the first known deaths linked to the novel coronavirus in the country—with the America's earliest known death linked to the virus occurring on Feb. 6, 2020, in Santa Clara County, Calif.. Nearly four months after the epidemic's first known death had occurred, U.S. officials by May 27 had reported the country's first 100,000 deaths linked to the virus. Four months later, U.S. officials had reported 200,000 deaths tied to the virus, and then about three months later, they had reported 300,000 deaths linked to the pathogen.

    It took about five weeks for U.S. officials to report another 100,000 deaths tied to the virus, with American reaching more than 400,000 deaths on Tuesday. In recent weeks, the number of newly reported coronavirus deaths has accelerated, with officials reporting daily records of new deaths multiple times over the past few weeks, the New York Times reports. For instance, on Jan. 12, U.S. officials reported a record-high of more than 4,400 deaths linked to the virus in a single day.

    Helen Branswell, STAT News' infectious disease reporter, in a tweet posted Wednesday noted that 55,000, or about 14%, of the United States' total number of deaths linked to the novel coronavirus so far occurred during just the first three weeks of this month.

    According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 2,770 new deaths linked to the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. As of Wednesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 401,823 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 399,053 deaths reported as of Tuesday morning.

    Public health experts anticipate the country's number of newly reported deaths tied to the virus will spike over the next few weeks as a result of surges in newly reported coronavirus cases the country saw because of Americans gathering with others over the recent holidays. According to the Times, experts estimate that the total number of U.S. deaths linked to the virus may reach 500,000 by February.

    "This is just one step on an ominous path of fatalities," said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

    America grapples with persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations

    The somber milestone of reporting more than 400,000 deaths tied to the novel coronavirus comes as America continues to report persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

    According to the data compiled by the Times, U.S. officials as of Wednesday morning had reported a total of about 24.3 million cases of the novel coronavirus since America's epidemic began—up from about 24.1 million cases reported as of Tuesday morning.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 201,117—which is down by 11% when compared with the average from two weeks ago.

    As of Wednesday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Washington, D.C.; and 25 states that have had a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    The Times' data also showed that, as of Wednesday morning, the daily average of newly reported cases over the past seven days was "going down" in 24 states that had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission. Those states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.

    Meanwhile, Guam has had a comparatively lower case rate, but that rate was "going up" as of Wednesday morning, according to the Times. In Hawaii, the rate of newly reported coronavirus cases was "staying low" as of Wednesday morning, according to the Times' analysis.

    U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, also have remained high. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 123,820 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Tuesday, including 23,029 who were receiving care in an ICU and 7,688 who were on a ventilator.

    America's numbers of reported coronavirus deaths, cases, and hospitalizations have remained high as the country has struggled to quickly roll out its two authorized Covid-19 vaccines. CDC data shows that, as of Tuesday morning, the federal government had distributed about 31.2 million doses of the vaccines, and about 15.7 million Americans had received their first dose of the two-dose Covid-19 vaccines.

    Experts say we can turn the tide, prevent more cases and deaths

    Despite the dismal state of America's coronavirus epidemic so far, public health experts say we can turn the tide and avoid more new cases and deaths by doubling down on evidence-backed public health measures to mitigate the virus's spread. And experts say it's especially important to do so now, in light of new, more-transmissible variants of the coronavirus that have emerged.

    "[T]he 400,000th death is shameful," Cliff Daniels, chief strategy officer at Methodist Hospital of Southern California, said. "It's so incredibly, unimaginably sad that so many people have died that could have been avoided."

    To change the tide, "[w]e need to follow the science," Daniels said.

    Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of epidemiology at the University of California-San Francisco, said it's also key to consider how human behavior factors into the epidemic. "It's important to understand virology. It's important to understand epidemiology. But ultimately, what we've learned is that human behavior and psychology is a major force in this pandemic," she said.

    For instance, Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor of medicine and a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, "My heart breaks, because we could have prevented this. … A lot of what we saw during the holiday travel was the inability to reach our loved ones or family members—not like a public service announcement, but one on one, talking to them (about the exposure risks). … I really felt like we failed." Galiatsatos noted, for example, an older patient he cared for who was transported six hours to his hospital, because there were no hospital beds available any closer. When he told the patient's family that she died, they were shocked, he said.

    "They said, 'But she was so healthy. She cooked us all Thanksgiving dinner and we had all the family over.' … They were saying it with sincerity, but that's probably where she got it."

    In addition to behavioral changes, Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said the United States must look to scale up Covid-19 vaccinations as quickly as possible. "Right now what is required is getting people vaccinated with vaccines we already have," he said. "The fact that's going super slow still is incredibly frustrating" (Mazzei, New York Times, 1/19; Geller/Har, Associated Press, 1/20; Canipe, Reuters, 1/19; Stone, Kaiser Health News, 1/19; Branswell tweet, 1/19; New York Times, 1/20; "The COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 1/20; CDC data, updated 1/19).

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