The United States surpassed 250,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus Wednesday — an alarming reminder of the toll the virus has had on the world’s most heavily-infected country.
The milestone was reached a day after the deadliest day of the pandemic since May, with over 1,700 people dying on Tuesday alone, according to Johns Hopkins University.
As of 7 p.m. ET Wednesday, 250,140 deaths have been reported across the U.S. since the pandemic began last spring, based on data compiled by Johns Hopkins. Roughly 11.5 million infections have been confirmed to date.
More than 1,000 people have been dying nearly every day this month, a trend not seen since a second surge of the virus this past summer. November has seen an alarming new trend, however, with over 100,000 new cases being reported every day — reaching a record high just five days ago with over 177,000 infections.
The record surge in new cases in all 50 states is pushing hospitals to the brink. On Tuesday, the COVID Tracking Project reported a new high of nearly 77,000 hospitalizations.
That’s pushing health-care workers to the limit as they deal with deteriorating conditions inside hospitals, which are struggling to administer care to the overwhelming number of patients.
“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, told the Associated Press Wednesday.
The out-of-control surge is leading governors and mayors across the U.S. to grudgingly issue mask mandates, limit the size of private and public gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving, ban indoor restaurant dining, close gyms or restrict the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.
Yet there has been no public acknowledgment of the worsening health crisis from the federal government. President Donald Trump has largely avoided public events since he was projected to have lost the presidential election, only emerging to tout his administration’s plans to distribute a vaccine that has still not been approved.
Trump has also not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in five months, according to reports.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team has said it is not receiving information from the Trump administration about the pandemic or those vaccine plans, with Biden warning the continued delay of sharing information will affect his efforts to combat the virus.
“More people will die if we don’t co-ordinate,” Biden said Monday.
“We’re going into a very dark winter. Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier,” he said of the pandemic.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is projecting another 110,000 people could die by the time Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. The death toll may reach nearly 439,000 by March 1 unless more health restrictions are enforced, researchers say.
Many of those deaths are likely to occur before vaccines are properly distributed to the nation’s most vulnerable, let alone the majority of U.S. residents.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have reported their vaccine candidates are 95 per cent effective based on data from late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer said Wednesday that it will be applying for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the coming days.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday he expects there will be 40 million doses of the vaccine, which has to be taken in two doses to protect from COVID-19, available for distribution by the end of December. Azar and other top health officials have projected a vaccine could be widely available by the spring of 2021.
But Biden warned Wednesday that the continued refusal of Azar, HHS and the rest of the Trump administration to share those distribution plans with the incoming administration means the vaccine could be delayed by weeks or even months.
When asked about the Biden team’s concerns Wednesday, Azar said “in the event” of a transition, the vast majority of the HHS and Pentagon officials working on vaccine distribution are all career government employees and “there is really just total continuity that would occur.”
Azar said HHS cannot begin the transition process until allowed by an obscure agency called the General Services Administration, headed by a Trump appointee.
Pfizer has confirmed it’s already in regular communication with Biden’s transition team as well as the Trump administration and state governors about a vaccine and its distribution.
— With files from the Associated Press