Tuesday, January 19, 2021

As Death Rate Accelerates, U.S. Records 400,000 Lives Lost To The Coronavirus




January 19, 20212:49 PM ET
Will Stone

While millions wait for a lifesaving shot, the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus continues to soar upward with horrifying speed. On Tuesday, the last full day of Donald Trump's presidency, the official death count reached 400,000 — a once-unthinkable number. More than 100,000 Americans have perished in the pandemic in just the past five weeks.

In the U.S., someone now dies from COVID-19 every 26 seconds. And the disease is now claiming more American lives each week than any other condition, ahead of heart disease and cancer, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. 


The U.S is now averaging more than 3,300 deaths a day — well above the most devastating days of the early spring surge when the daily average deaths hovered around 2,000.

"At this point, looking at the numbers, for me the question is: Is there any way we can avoid half a million deaths before the end of February?" says Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

"I think of how much suffering as a nation we seem to be willing to accept that we have this number of people getting infected and dying every day."


In rural America, the chance of dying from COVID-19 remains much higher than in the urban centers.

People over 65 make up the overwhelming majority of deaths, but Jha says more young people are dying than earlier in the pandemic simply because the virus is so widespread. 


Galiatsatos still recalls a grandmother who was transported six hours from her home to his hospital — because there were no beds anywhere closer.

On the phone, he heard her family's shock at her sudden passing.

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


 Given the current pace of vaccination, experts warn Americans cannot depend solely on the vaccine to prevent a crushing number of additional deaths in the coming months.

Bibbins-Domingo of the University of California, San Francisco worries the relief of knowing that a vaccine will eventually be widely available — the so-called light at the end of the tunnel — may lull millions of more Americans into a false sense of safety.

"This tunnel is actually a very long tunnel, and the next few months, as the last few months have been, are going to be very dark times," she says.

The emergence of new, more contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2 only complicates the picture and makes it all the more imperative that Americans spend the coming months doubling down on the same tactics — face masks and physical distancing — that have kept many people safe from the virus so far. 



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