The U.S. surpassed 600,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, a stark reminder of the pandemic’s enduring toll even as the nation continues to take steps toward normalcy.
The remarkable progress in the battle against the coronavirus, thanks to a concerted vaccination effort led by the federal government, has ushered in the lifting of restrictions and perhaps even a sense that the pandemic’s over. The current seven-day average of about 430 COVID deaths a day is less than one-seventh of the 3,300 daily fatalities during the ghastly January peak.
But even 430 represents a fourfold increase on the number of Americans per day who die of the flu in a typical year, and the U.S. still leads the world by plenty in reported coronavirus cases (33.4 million) and deaths. No other nation comes within 100,000 COVID fatalities.
And with half of Americans still unvaccinated, the potential for further grief and suffering has been far from eliminated.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, but it doesn’t bring back any of those lives or bring solace to the grieving families,’’ said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“My other worry is that, for too many Americans and politicians, the rush for life to ‘get back to normal’ will lead to complacency about the problems that made us vulnerable to COVID in the first place. The same root causes have made Americans sicker than people in other countries for many years.’’
In launching a push last week toward his goal of having 70% of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4, President Joe Biden emphasized the appeal of being freed from the shackles the virus has imposed on daily life.
At the same time, he warned about the potential for further outbreaks in the fall, when cooler temperatures tend to drive people indoors.
“For all the progress we’re making as a country,’’ Biden said, “if you’re unvaccinated, you’re still at risk of getting seriously ill or dying, or spreading disease to others.’’
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s ongoing vaccine monitor shows 20% of adults don’t intend to get the vaccine unless required, and 12% are on a wait-and-see mode. That’s nearly one-third of the country’s adults expressing reluctance.
In light of that, along with unresolved questions about the impact of highly contagious variants, how long immunity lasts and the possible need for booster shots, it’s hard to ascertain whether 600,000 will be the last grim threshold the U.S. crosses.
– Jorge L. Ortiz
Also in the news:
►AstraZeneca announced that late-stage testing of its COVID-19 antibody therapy showed the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 was reduced by only 33% compared to placebo, which the company said “was not statistically significant.”
►The University of California will require students, staff and faculty to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall, the latest in a group of colleges to require a vaccine to go on campus.
►The U.S. will send Mexico an overnight shipment of 1.35 million COVID vaccines after Vice President Kamala Harris promised a surplus shipment to the southern neighbor last week.
►A new study found about one-third of Americans who are planning to retire now say COVID has delayed their retirement.
►Two Iowa nurses were fired Monday after giving up to six times the proper dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to dozens of inmates at the Fort Madison prison in April, a maximum-security prison for men.
►More than 50 million people have experienced food insecurity during the pandemic, up from 35 million in 2019, according to the Feeding America nonprofit, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.47 million confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 599,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: Over 176.2 million cases and over 3.8 million deaths. More than 144.9 million Americans have been fully vaccinated – 43.7% of the population, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Effective COVID-19 vaccines were developed in under a year. But a half-century after the country declared war on cancer, and 40 years after the first reported case of HIV/AIDS, there remains no way to prevent either disease or many more. Read the full story.
New York state has surpassed the first-shot, 70% vaccination threshold for adults, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, a benchmark that will trigger a pullback on safety precautions such as those still in place for social distancing in restaurants. It means retail stories, restaurants, offices, gyms, amusement centers, hair salons can make it optional to have capacity and social distancing restrictions, as well as ease COVID disinfection protocols. However, large-scale event venues, pre-K to 12th grade schools, public transit systems, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes and health care settings must continue to follow existing state’s guidelines until more New Yorkers are vaccinated.
“Congratulations to New Yorkers because they are the ones who did it,” Cuomo said at a celebratory event at One World Trade Center in Manhattan.
– Joseph Spector
Mounting evidence suggests COVID may have been circulating in the U.S. earlier than previously thought and before the first case was discovered on Jan. 21, 2020, according to a study published Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program. Researchers analyzed 24,000 blood samples between Jan. 2 and March 18, 2020 and found antibodies in blood collected as early as Jan. 7 in states such as Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The report expands on previous research published in Nov. 2020 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found evidence of antibodies in blood sampled as early as Dec. 13, 2019.
“This study allows us to uncover more information about the beginning of the U.S. epidemic,” said Dr. Josh Denny, chief executive officer of the NIH program and author of the study.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
The Biden administration is encouraging nationwide July 4th celebrations and plans to host a blowout cookout for first responders, essential workers, military members and their families on the South Lawn of the White House. The more than 1,000 invited presidential guests will get to stay for the fireworks over the National Mall as well, according to two White House officials who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The celebration marks a big jump from the cautious goals he announced on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic March 11.
“By July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden had said. “That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together.”
The nation’s largest state reopens today, effectively ending a slew of 15-month restrictions to stem the COVID-19 pandemic. California is ranked 41st among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. With 11.87% of the country’s population, California had 6.19% of the country’s cases in the last week.
The Golden State is in a markedly different place than it was in December when it broke records for hospitalizations and single-day case numbers multiple days in a row. Deaths topped 30,000, then 45,000 the next month, and many funeral homes in Southern California were overrun by the surge. Last week, California recorded 792 to 1,136 new infections every day, down from a December peak of nearly 54,000.
“It’s a new day,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference Monday, before the state’s reopening. “This state is not poised to recover, it’s poised, as was noted, to come roaring back.”
Governor Laura Kelly asked the Kansas Legislative Coordinating Council to extend the state of disaster emergency declaration. The Democrat, who also rescinded executive orders involving several restrictions, said some restrictions will be needed until at least Sept. 1. The GOP council has previously expressed skepticism over the proposed extension. Kelly said the declaration was needed for, among other reasons, continued use of the Kansas National Guard to distribute vaccines.
“Our state’s emergency response is the groundwork for getting shots in arms, supporting local communities, and getting our state back to normal,” Kelly tweeted. “We owe it to Kansans to finish the job responsibly.”
One person was killed and three others were wounded Monday in a shootout at a Georgia supermarket after an argument over wearing face masks, authorities said.
The alleged gunman started arguing with a cashier at Big Bear Supermarket in Decatur, Georgia, over his face mask, Dekalb County Sheriff Melody Maddox said during a news conference Monday. The shooter was identified by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as Victor Lee Tucker Jr., 30, of Palmetto, Georgia.
The agency said preliminary information indicates that Tucker then left the store without making a purchase. He returned shortly after, pulling out a handgun and shooting the cashier. She later died from her injuries, Maddox said.
A deputy, who was working as a security guard and has retired from active duty, attempted to intervene in the shooting, Maddox said. The deputy and Tucker exchanged gunfire, and both were wounded during the shootout. Both have been transported to local hospitals.
One other cashier was wounded at the store but was treated at the scene.
The head of the World Health Organization said the number of new coronavirus cases reported have now dropped for the past seven weeks, the longest such period of decline since the pandemic began.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the drop, but said the vastly unequal access to coronavirus vaccines was threatening further progress.
“The virus is moving faster than the global (vaccine) distribution,” Tedros said. He called for political leaders to commit to immunizing at least 70% of the world’s population by the time of next year’s G7 meeting.
Contributing: The Associated Press.