Nation & World: U.S. tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
photo by: Associated Press
The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, a staggering number that all but matches the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.
President Joe Biden held a sunset moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House and ordered American flags lowered at federal buildings for the next five days.
“We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” Biden said. “We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur.”
The half-million milestone, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, comes as states redouble efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine into arms after last week’s winter weather closed clinics, slowed vaccine deliveries and forced tens of thousands of people to miss their shots.
Despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.
The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater, in part because many cases were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.
The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 deaths. The toll hit 200,000 in September and 300,000 in December, then took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.
The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.
Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.
But experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. And some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.
Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.
Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Kentucky, who has treated scores of COVID-19 patients, said he never thought the U.S. deaths would be so high.
“I was one of those early ones that thought this may be something that may hit us for a couple months … I definitely thought we would be done with it before we got into the fall. And I definitely didn’t see it heading off into 2021,” Stanton said.
Kristy Sourk, an intensive-care nurse at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, said she is encouraged by the declining caseload and progress in vaccinating people, but “I know we are so far from over.”
People “are still dying, and families are still isolated from their loved ones who are unable to be with them so that is still pretty heart-wrenching,” she said.
Snow, ice and weather-related power outages closed some vaccination sites and held up shipments across a large swath of the nation, including in the Deep South.
As a result, the seven-day rolling average of adminstered first doses fell by 20 percent between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House said that about a third of the roughly 6 million vaccine doses delayed by bad weather were delivered over the weekend, with the rest expected to be delivered by mid-week, several days earlier than originally expected. White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt on Monday attributed the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort over the weekend that included employees at one vaccine distributor working night shifts to pack vaccines.
In Louisiana, state health officials said some doses from last week’s shipments were delivered over the weekend and were expected to continue arriving through Wednesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week’s supply arrived Monday. And in Nashville, Tennessee, health officials were able to vaccinate more than 2,300 senior citizens and teachers over the weekend after days of treacherous weather.
Mary Pettersch, an 80-year-old Overland Park, Kansas, retiree who is spending the winter with her 83-year-old husband in Palmhurst, Texas, anticipated that the second dose they were supposed to get on Tuesday will be delayed because of last week’s harsh weather.
She made multiple calls to health officials Monday, but they weren’t returned. Still, she wasn’t too worried.
“Oh, I would like to get it, but if I can’t get it here, I will get it back home,” she said, noting that she is returning to Kansas in April. “At 80 you don’t get frustrated anymore,” she said.
Some hospitals, clinics, community sites and pharmacies that are in Louisiana’s vaccination network will get double allocations of doses this week — just as Gov. John Bel Edwards starts offering shots to teachers, daycare workers, pregnant women and people age 55 to 64 with certain preexisting conditions.
New York City officials expected to catch up on vaccinations after being forced to delay scheduling tens of thousands of appointments last week, the mayor said Monday.
“That means we’ve basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts,” DeBlasio said.
More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.6 million per day received either first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the CDC.
The nation’s supply could expand significantly if health regulators approve a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.
The company said it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses by the end of March if it gets the green light, and would have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June.
That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale, the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.
J&J disclosed the figures in written testimony ahead of a congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.
U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot, and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week.
The J&J vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot. The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spaced several weeks apart.
Biden gives emotional eulogy for virus victims
Washington (ap) — With sunset remarks and a national moment of silence, President Joe Biden on Monday confronted head-on the country’s once-unimaginable loss — half a million Americans in the COVID-19 pandemic — as he tried to strike a balance between mourning and hope.
Addressing the “grim, heartbreaking milestone” directly and publicly, Biden stepped to a lectern in the White House Cross Hall, unhooked his face mask and delivered an emotion-filled eulogy for more than 500,000 Americans he said he felt he knew.
“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans. There’s no such thing,” he said Monday evening. “There’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary.”
Virginia to end death penalty
Richmond, Va. (ap) — State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to legislation that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people in its long history than any other.
The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign it into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.
“There’s a realization that it is time to end this outdated practice that tends to bring more harm to victims’ family members than providing us any comfort or solace,” said Rachel Sutphin, whose father, Cpl. Eric Sutphin, was fatally shot in 2006 while working for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
Probe criticizes police officers in fatal arrest of Elijah McClain
Denver (ap) — The results of an investigation into the fatal arrest of Elijah McClain in suburban Denver released Monday criticizes how police handled the entire incident, faulting officers for their quick, aggressive treatment of the 23-year-old Black man and the department for having a weak accountability system that failed to press for the truth about what happened.
The investigation commissioned by the city of Aurora found “two contrasting stories” of what happened to McClain in August 2019 after someone reported him as suspicious. One was based on officers’ statements to investigators, where police describe a violent, relentless struggle. And another was based on body camera footage in which McClain can be heard crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself and pleading with the officers as they restrained him, applied “pain compliance” techniques and sat or kneeled on him.
Grammy-winning duo Daft Punk break up after 28-year career
New York (ap) — Grammy-winning electronic music pioneers Daft Punk have announced that they are breaking up after 28 years.
The helmet-wearing French duo shared the news Monday in an 8-minute video called “Epilogue.” Kathryn Frazier, the band’s longtime publicist, confirmed the breakup for The Associated Press.
Daft Punk, comprised of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, have had major success over the years, winning six Grammy Awards and launching international hits with “One More Time,” “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Get Lucky.”
Bangalter and de Homem-Christo met at a Paris school in 1987. Prior to Daft Punk, they formed an indie rock band named Darling.
SCOTUS won’t halt turnover of Trump’s tax records
Washington (ap) — In a significant defeat for former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to step in to halt the turnover of his tax records to a New York state prosecutor.
The court’s action is the apparent culmination of a lengthy legal battle that had already reached the high court once before.
Trump’s tax records are not supposed to become public as part of prosecutors’ criminal investigation, but the high court’s action is a blow to Trump because he has long fought on so many fronts to keep his tax records shielded from view. The ongoing investigation that the records are part of could also become an issue for Trump in his life after the presidency.
In a statement, the Trump blasted prosecutors and said the “Supreme Court never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen, but they did.” The Republican claimed the investigation is politically motivated by Democrats in “a totally Democrat location, New York City and State.” And he said he would “fight on” and that “We will win!”
FAA orders United to inspect Boeing 777s after emergency
Federal aviation regulators are ordering United Airlines to step up inspections of all Boeing 777s equipped with the type of engine that suffered a catastrophic failure over Denver on Saturday.
United said it is temporarily removing those aircraft from service, as meanwhile Boeing recommended grounding aircraft with that model engine until the Federal Aviation.
The announcements come a day after United Airlines Flight 328 had to make an emergency landing at Denver International Airport after its right engine blew apart just after takeoff. Pieces of the casing of the engine, a Pratt & Whitney PW4000, rained down on suburban neighborhoods.
The plane with 231 passengers and 10 crew on board landed safely, and nobody aboard or on the ground was reported hurt, authorities said.