'Unfathomable': US death toll from coronavirus hits 200,000

The death toll in the U.S. from the coronavirus has topped 200,000, a figure unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation.

Posted: Sep 22, 2020 12:39 PM

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, a figure unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation with its state-of-the-art laboratories, top-flight scientists and stockpiles of medicines and emergency supplies.

“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher.

The bleak milestone, by far the highest confirmed death toll from the virus in the world, was reported by Johns Hopkins, based on figures supplied by state health authorities. But the real toll is thought to be much higher, in part because many COVID-19 deaths were probably ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing.

The number of dead in the U.S. is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.

And it is still climbing. Deaths are running at close to 770 a day on average, and a widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the U.S. toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in. A vaccine is unlikely to become widely available until 2021.

“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, in some respects stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious-disease expert, said on CNN.

The U.S. hit the threshold six weeks before a presidential election that is certain to be in part a referendum on President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis.

In an interview Tuesday with a Detroit TV station, Trump boasted of doing an “amazing” and “incredible” job against the scourge, adding: “The only thing we’ve done a bad job in is public relations because we haven’t been able to convince people — which is basically the fake news — what a great job we’ve done.”

And in a pre-recorded speech at a virtual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump lashed out at Beijing over what he called “the China virus” and demanded that it be held accountable for having “unleashed this plague onto the world.” China’s ambassador rejected the accusations as baseless.

For five months, America has led the world by far in sheer numbers of confirmed infections and deaths. The U.S. has less than 5% of the globe’s population but more than 20% of the reported deaths.

Brazil is No. 2 with about 137,000 deaths, followed by India with approximately 89,000 and Mexico with around 74,000. Only five countries — Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Spain and Brazil — rank higher in COVID-19 deaths per capita.

“All the world’s leaders took the same test, and some have succeeded and some have failed,” said Dr. Cedric Dark, an emergency physician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who has seen death firsthand. “In the case of our country, we failed miserably.”

Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians have accounted for a disproportionate share of the deaths, underscoring the economic and health care disparities in the U.S.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 31 million people and is closing in fast on 1 million deaths, with over 965,000 lives lost, by Johns Hopkins' count, though the real numbers are believed to be higher because of gaps in testing and reporting.

For the U.S., it wasn’t supposed to go this way.

When the year began, the U.S. had recently garnered recognition for its readiness for a pandemic. Health officials seemed confident as they converged on Seattle in January to deal with the country's first known case of the coronavirus, in a 35-year-old Washington state resident who had returned from visiting his family in Wuhan, China.

On Feb. 26, Trump held up pages from the Global Health Security Index, a measure of readiness for health crises, and declared: “The United States is rated No. 1 most prepared."

It was true. The U.S. outranked the 194 other countries in the index. Besides its labs, experts and strategic stockpiles, the U.S. could boast of its disease trackers and plans for rapidly communicating lifesaving information during a crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was respected around the world for sending help to fight infectious diseases.

But monitoring at airports was loose. Travel bans came too late. Only later did health officials realize the virus could spread before symptoms show up, rendering screening imperfect. The virus also swept into nursing homes, where infection controls were already poor, claiming more than 78,000 lives.

At the same time, gaps in leadership led to shortages of testing supplies. Internal warnings to ramp up production of masks were ignored, leaving states to compete for protective gear.

Trump downplayed the threat early on, advanced unfounded notions about the behavior of the virus, promoted unproven or dangerous treatments, complained that too much testing was making the U.S. look bad, and disdained masks, turning face coverings into a political issue.

On April 10, the president predicted the U.S. wouldn't see 100,000 deaths. That milestone was reached May 27.

Nowhere was the lack of leadership seen as more crucial than in testing, a key to breaking the chain of contagion.

“We have from the very beginning lacked a national testing strategy,” Nuzzo said. “For reasons I can't truly fathom we’ve refused to develop one.” Such coordination should be led by the White House, not by each state independently, she said.

Roberto Tobias Jr., a 17-year-old from Queens in New York City, lost his mother and father to COVID-19 a month apart in the spring. He and his sister also contracted the virus but recovered. Tobias is now applying to college, hoping to get into Columbia University and become a neurosurgeon.

“Because it’s just me and my sister, we sort of have to rely on each other," he said. “We were the only blood left.”

The real number of dead from the crisis could be significantly higher: As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. from all causes during the first seven months of 2020, according to CDC figures. The death toll from COVID-19 during the same period was put at about 150,000 by Johns Hopkins.

Researchers suspect some coronavirus deaths were overlooked, while other deaths may have been caused indirectly by the crisis, by creating such turmoil that people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease were unable or unwilling to get treatment.

Dark, the emergency physician at Baylor, said that before the crisis, “people used to look to the United States with a degree of reverence. For democracy. For our moral leadership in the world. Supporting science and using technology to travel to the moon.”

“Instead,” he said, "what’s really been exposed is how anti-science we’ve become.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 308737

Reported Deaths: 7139
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20901250
Hinds19953410
Harrison17551302
Rankin13358276
Jackson13141243
Madison9949211
Lee9886170
Jones8308161
Forrest7537147
Lauderdale7221237
Lowndes6286144
Lamar613284
Lafayette6063117
Washington5288133
Bolivar4775129
Oktibbeha457097
Panola4456103
Pearl River4433141
Warren4294118
Marshall4283101
Pontotoc417572
Monroe4061132
Union404675
Neshoba4001176
Lincoln3883109
Hancock373385
Leflore3470124
Sunflower330789
Tate325082
Pike3205105
Scott311272
Yazoo304769
Alcorn298865
Itawamba297477
Copiah293965
Coahoma290378
Simpson289486
Tippah285168
Prentiss276559
Marion266279
Leake261473
Wayne261441
Grenada256284
Covington254980
Adams246882
Newton245561
George238347
Winston226081
Tishomingo222467
Jasper219948
Attala213573
Chickasaw205257
Holmes186972
Clay183054
Stone179531
Clarke177576
Tallahatchie175940
Calhoun165231
Yalobusha159736
Smith159234
Walthall131043
Greene129633
Lawrence126623
Noxubee126533
Montgomery125742
Perry125238
Carroll120926
Amite120741
Webster113732
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica103025
Claiborne101330
Benton97425
Kemper95628
Humphreys94432
Franklin82723
Quitman78916
Choctaw73717
Wilkinson64928
Jefferson64828
Sharkey49817
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 521201

Reported Deaths: 10736
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753981490
Mobile39011799
Madison34002496
Tuscaloosa25329444
Montgomery23996567
Shelby23160239
Baldwin20674302
Lee15567165
Calhoun14330311
Morgan14152271
Etowah13677346
Marshall11988220
Houston10402278
Elmore10008200
Limestone9843147
Cullman9501189
St. Clair9449234
Lauderdale9254228
DeKalb8756181
Talladega8104171
Walker7126275
Jackson6751110
Autauga6748103
Blount6511134
Colbert6225130
Coffee5418113
Dale4771111
Russell429338
Franklin420582
Chilton4100109
Covington4059114
Tallapoosa3904146
Escambia389574
Dallas3522149
Chambers3513122
Clarke346760
Marion3072100
Pike306176
Lawrence295395
Winston273072
Bibb256059
Marengo248261
Geneva245975
Pickens233059
Barbour226255
Hale218675
Butler212867
Fayette209460
Henry188044
Cherokee182544
Randolph177041
Monroe172440
Washington164738
Macon155548
Clay150055
Crenshaw149457
Cleburne146341
Lamar139634
Lowndes136553
Wilcox124527
Bullock121540
Conecuh109428
Perry107626
Sumter103232
Coosa99428
Greene91334
Choctaw58724
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