Amid discussions about reopening businesses among lawmakers and tentative summer plans among friend groups, the US hit a bleak milestone on Wednesday as the recorded number of people who have died from the coronavirus surpassed 100,000.
Officially, 1,694,599 people have contracted the coronavirus to date, and 100,047 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US death toll makes up nearly one-third of the total number of coronavirus-related deaths worldwide.
The US has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, but public health experts say the real number of infections and deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel virus, is likely much higher than the official count.
"Almost certainly it's higher," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director who sits on the White House coronavirus task force, said about the death toll at a Senate hearing on May 12. "There may have been people who died at home who were not counted as COVID because they never really got to the hospital."
Officials believe the death toll was undercounted from the beginning. Testing has increased since the CDC rolled out botched test kits in February, but it remains elusive for many — especially those in black and brown communities, who are disproportionately dying from the virus.
Autopsies performed on two people who died before the first known coronavirus-related death in the US have indicated that the virus had a presence in the US earlier than experts thought.
Fauci estimated in March — when President Donald Trump began talking about reopening the economy — that 100,000 to 200,000 people will die from the coronavirus in the US, and millions will be infected.
The Wednesday death count marks a grim milestone for the US as many states prepare to reopen after weeks of stay-at-home orders. Some business owners have urged officials to allow them to reopen, and many people are openly flouting social distancing measures by crowding parks in the warm weather and attending large parties.
Experts have warned that reopening businesses and relaxing social distancing rules will likely lead to a "resurgence in cases and deaths" across the country.
At a hearing in May, Fauci told senators that ending stay-at-home orders across the country could be disastrous.
"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which, in fact, paradoxically will set you back — not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery," he said. "We will almost turn the clock back rather than going forward."
Sources: COVID-19 death data according to Johns Hopkins University. Iraq War includes Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 19, 2003–Aug. 31, 2010) and Operation New Dawn (Sept. 1, 2010–Dec. 31, 2011), per information from the Department of Defense. Afghanistan War includes Operation Enduring Freedom (Oct. 7, 2001–Dec. 31, 2014) and Operation Freedom's Sentinel (Jan. 1, 2015–present), per information from the Department of Defense. 2020 gun deaths in the US is based on information in the Gun Violence Archive (including the actual total of all non-suicide deaths plus daily calculated suicide deaths).