Nation & World: U.S. coronavirus death toll approaches milestone of 500,000
photo by: Associated Press
The U.S. stood Sunday at the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus.
A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was about 498,000 — roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta. The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.
“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The U.S. virus death toll reached 400,000 on Jan. 19 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a singular failure.
The nation could pass this next grim milestone on Monday. President Joe Biden will mark the U.S. crossing 500,000 lives lost from COVID-19 with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House.
Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honor the dead, the White House said. He’s expected to be joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. happened in early February 2020, both of them in Santa Clara County, California. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.
Joyce Willis of Las Vegas is among the countless Americans who lost family members during the pandemic. Her husband, Anthony Willis, died Dec. 28, followed by her mother-in-law in early January.
There were anxious calls from the ICU when her husband was hospitalized. She was unable to see him before he died because she, too, had the virus and could not visit.
“They are gone. Your loved one is gone, but you are still alive,” Willis said. “It’s like you still have to get up every morning. You have to take care of your kids and make a living. There is no way around it. You just have to move on.”
Then came a nightmare scenario of caring for her father-in-law while dealing with grief, arranging funerals, paying bills, helping her children navigate online school and figuring out how to go back to work as an occupational therapist.
Her father-in-law, a Vietnam vet, also contracted the virus. He also suffered from respiratory issues and died on Feb. 8. The family isn’t sure if COVID-19 contributed to his death.
“Some days I feel OK and other days I feel like I’m strong and I can do this,” she said. “And then other days it just hits me. My whole world is turned upside-down.”
The global death toll was approaching 2.5 million, according to Johns Hopkins.
While the count is based on figures supplied by government agencies around the world, the real death toll is believed to be significantly higher, in part because of inadequate testing and cases inaccurately attributed to other causes early on.
Despite efforts to administer coronavirus vaccines, a widely cited model by the University of Washington projects the U.S. death toll will surpass 589,000 by June 1.
“People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
Boeing: 777s with engine that blew apart should be grounded
Boeing has recommended that airlines ground all of its 777s with the type of engine that suffered a catastrophic failure over Denver this weekend, as U.S. regulators ordered United Airlines to step up inspections of those aircraft.
United said Sunday it is temporarily removing the aircraft from service, a day after one of its planes made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport because its right engine blew apart just after takeoff. Pieces of the casing of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, rained down on suburban neighborhoods. None of the 231 passengers or 10 crew on board was reported hurt, and the plane landed safely, authorities said.
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement Sunday that based on an initial review of safety data, inspectors “concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used solely on Boeing 777 airplanes.”
The statement said that would likely mean some planes would be grounded — and Boeing said they should be until the FAA sets an inspection regime. Japan, meanwhile, also ordered the planes out of service, according to the financial newspaper Nikkei, while saying that an engine in the same family suffered trouble in December.
Boeing said there were 69 777s with the Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines in service and another 59 in storage. United is the only U.S. airline with the engine in its fleet, according to the FAA, and it had 24 of the planes in service. Two Japanese airlines had another 32 in service.
Biden to boost pandemic lending to smallest businesses
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is targeting federal pandemic assistance to the nation’s smallest businesses and taking steps to further equity in what is known as the Paycheck Protection Program.
The administration is establishing a two-week window, starting on Wednesday, in which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees — the overwhelming majority of small businesses — can apply for the forgivable loans. Biden’s team is also carving out $1 billion to direct toward sole proprietors, such as home contractors and beauticians, the majority of which are owned by women and people of color.
Other efforts will remove a prohibition on lending to a company with at least 20% ownership by a person arrested or convicted for a nonfraud felony in the prior year, as well as allowing those behind on their federal student loans to seek relief through the program. The administration is also clarifying that noncitizen legal residents can apply to the program.
The PPP, first rolled out in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and renewed in December, was meant to help keep Americans employed during the economic downturn. It allows small and mid-size businesses suffering a loss of revenue to access federal loans, which are forgivable if 60% of the loan is spent on payroll and the balance on other qualified expenses.
The Biden effort is aimed at correcting disparities in how the program was administered by the Trump administration.
Data from the Paycheck Protection Program released Dec. 1 and analyzed by The Associated Press show that many minority owners desperate for a relief loan didn’t receive one until the PPP’s last few weeks while many more white business owners were able to get loans earlier in the program.