The U.S. surpassed 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
That number is the best estimate and most assuredly an undercount, but it represents the stark reality that more Americans have died from the virus than from the Vietnam and Korean wars combined.
“It’s a striking reminder of how dangerous this virus can be,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.6 million people and killed over 350,000, with the U.S. having the most confirmed cases and deaths by far, according to the JHU tally. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths, while the U.S. reached more than 100,000 in less than four months.
The true death toll from the virus, which emerged in China late last year and was first reported in the U.S. in January, is widely believed to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims died of COVID-19 without ever being tested for it.
At the end of March, the United States eclipsed China with 3,500 deaths. Now the U.S. has not only the highest death total but also the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world, making up more than 30 per cent of the global total.
Early on, U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and called it no worse than the common flu. He previously predicted the country wouldn’t reach this death toll. As early as March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was warning that COVID-19 could claim more than 100,000 lives in the U.S.
“I think we’ll be substantially under that number,” Trump said on April 10. Ten days later he said, “We’re going toward 50[,000] or 60,000 people.” Ten days after that: “We’re probably heading to 60,000, 70,000.”
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Biden expresses condolences
Critics have said deaths spiked because Trump was slow to respond, but he has contended on Twitter that it could have been 20 times higher without his actions. He has urged states to reopen their economies after months of stay-at-home restrictions.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, the likely Democratic challenger to Trump in November’s presidential election, posted a video after the announcement expressing his condolences. “There are moments in our history so grim, so heart-rending, that they’re forever fixed in each of our hearts as shared grief,” Biden said in the video.
There are moments in our history so grim, so heart-rending, that they’re forever fixed in each of our hearts as shared grief. Today is one of those moments. 100,000 lives have now been lost to this virus.<br><br>To those hurting, I’m so sorry for your loss. The nation grieves with you. <a href=”https://t.co/SBBRKV4mPZ”>pic.twitter.com/SBBRKV4mPZ</a>
Wednesday’s stark development comes as only half of Americans said they would be willing to get vaccinated if scientists are successful in developing a vaccine, according to a new poll released Wednesday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The poll found 31 per cent simply weren’t sure if they’d get vaccinated. Another one in five said they’d refuse. Among Americans who say they wouldn’t get vaccinated, seven in 10 worry about safety. Among those who want a vaccine, the AP-NORC poll found protecting themselves, their family and the community were the top reasons.
Most people who get COVID-19 have mild cases and recover. However, the coronavirus has been seen attacking in far stealthier ways — from blood clots to heart and kidney damage.
There is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, though several emergency treatments are being used after showing some promise in preliminary testing.
Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are starting to be tested or getting close to it. Health officials have said studies of a potential vaccine might be done by late this year or early next year.
U.S. could see ‘slow burn of cases and deaths’ in summer: expert
Some public health experts cautioned that even more death is in the offing.
“Despite the terrible losses seen and the many difficulties Americans have faced to date in this pandemic, we’re still probably only in the early stages,” said Michaud. “In the U.S., we could be looking at a long pandemic summer with a slow burn of cases and deaths. There’s also reason to be concerned about a new wave of infections in the fall. So we’re definitely not out of the woods yet.”
Comparing how the virus has impacted different countries is tricky, given varying levels of testing and the fact that some coronavirus deaths can be missed. According to figures tracked by Johns Hopkins University, the death rate per 100,000 people is lower in the U.S. than in Italy, France and Spain but higher than in Germany, China, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
“The experience of other countries shows that death at that scale was preventable,” Michaud said. “To some extent, the United States suffers from having a slow start and inconsistent approach. We might have seen a different trajectory if different policies were put into place earlier and more forcefully.”
Countries with low death rates suppressed the virus “through lots of testing, contact tracing and policies to support isolation and quarantine of people at risk,” Michaud said.
The White House said the president was committed to holding a Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C., even as local officials warned that the region — one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus — will not be ready to hold a major event so soon.