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More than 400,000 Americans have now been killed by the coronavirus, a horrific marker of the misery the virus has spread across the country, as the rate of deaths from Covid-19 increases.
The latest death toll comes as thousands more deaths are expected in a bleak American winter with widespread Covid transmission, as a more transmissible strain spreads across the country and a mass vaccination campaign gets off to a slow start.
The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reported 400,022 people had died. The burden is disproportionately borne by people of color.
Months of death are still ahead for the US, as people recently infected by the virus become ill and perish. A forecast assembled by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that the death toll could be 477,000 by 6 February.
That prediction also represents the clear acceleration of deaths in the US. It took more than 16 weeks for the US to reach 100,000 deaths, but less than five for the toll to leap from 300,000 to 400,000. Many experts expect the US will reach 500,000 deaths in February.
“1920 was the last time an infectious disease was a leading causing of death in the US,” said Dr Stephen Woolf, an expert in population health and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “For generations, people who study public health have been taught that era is behind us.
“Once again, an infectious disease has become a leading cause of death,” said Woolf. “Americans are more likely to die from Covid-19 than from heart disease or cancer, and that is something I never thought I would ever say in my career.”
What’s more, the scale of death is expected to decrease American life expectancy by more than one year, the largest single-year decline in 40 years, according to a recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That burden also falls disproportionately on Black and Latino people, who have experienced a higher death rate and will lose more than two years of life expectancy. The life expectancy gap between white and black Americans is expected to widen to more than five years, a 40% increase.
Woolf and other public health experts believe the scale of death in the US is a reflection of the failure to control the virus ahead of an expected winter surge, travel over the holidays, and failure to implement widespread public health measures such as masking until very late.
The administration of Donald Trump has faced major criticism for its handling of the virus after it repeatedly failed to organize an effective national response and its top officials – including the US president himself – regularly trafficked in conspiracy theories and denialism.
Now, an acceleration in mortality is also partly expected because a new, more transmissible variant of Covid-19 is believed to be spreading in most states. The strain, called B117, transmits more easily from person to person. The CDC expects it to overtake dominant US strains by March.
The variant is not believed to be deadlier. But the strain will probably lead to more cases and more deaths as further burdens are placed on already overwhelmed hospitals.
Vaccines hold the potential to bring the pandemic to an early end through mass vaccination. However, the hope heralded by the emergency authorization of vaccine candidates has so far been met by a bumpy deployment. More than 31m doses of two available vaccines have been distributed, but only 12 million people have been vaccinated.
President-elect Joe Biden has promised to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days in office, a goal Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said was achievable.
“One thing that’s clear is that the issue of getting 100m doses in the first 100 days is absolutely a doable thing,” said Fauci on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Even as Americans mourn the extraordinary loss of 400,000 people, this figure too probably underrepresents the extraordinary toll of the virus. Analyses of “excess mortality”, which compare the expected number of deaths to actual deaths, show official death counts represent only 60-70% of the true death toll.
That is because official tallies do not count Covid-19 deaths not listed on death certificates, while fatal conditions have gone untreated because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Recent research also put the monetary cost of the pandemic at nearly 90% of the US gross domestic product, or roughly $16tn through the fall of 2021. That enormous figure was reached by analyzing the economic burdens of death, mental health impairment, and the long-term disabilities of “long-haulers” associated with Covid-19.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: US coronavirus death toll passes 400,000 amid grim forecast over winter | US news