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The US hit a nightmarish new milestone on Tuesday, surpassing 200,000 coronavirus deaths six months after states began shutting down over the pandemic in March, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University.
The figure, which public health experts believe is still grossly undercounted, marks half a year since government officials acknowledged a full-blown health crisis and haphazardly scrambled to contain the pandemic.
More than 6 million people have been infected with the coronavirus in the US so far, also widely viewed as an undercount. Daily case reports have steadily decelerated in the last few weeks, and the past seven days have seen an average of about 40,000 new cases and 850 deaths daily, according to the New York Times’ coronavirus tracker. The CDC data show that California, Florida, and Texas had the highest number of new cases among states in the second week of September.
On Sept. 10, President Donald Trump said the country is "rounding the corner" on the pandemic, but the following day, Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease scientist, disputed Trump's statement, telling CNN, "we're averaging close to 40,000 new infections a day and a thousand deaths. So we are still in the middle of this."
At a town hall hosted by ABC News days later, Trump repeated his claim that the country is "rounding the corner" and insisted the coronavirus will disappear even without a vaccine because of herd immunity, mistakenly calling it "herd mentality."
The country first recorded 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in May. At the time, New York City, along with its surrounding areas, was the epicenter of the health disaster.
Then summer came, and glimpses of the horrors seen on the East Coast — skyrocketing infections, exhausted and traumatized healthcare workers, hospitals running out of beds and ventilators, freezer trucks loaded with the bodies of victims — began to be seen across the country. States like Florida and Texas kept breaking their daily records of new reported cases, followed by a rise in deaths.
Yet some governors continued to resist safety measures that public health officials urged for them to put in place. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp refused to issue statewide mask mandates. Kemp went as far as to sue Atlanta city officials for instituting protective measures for residents (he later dropped the lawsuit).
Meanwhile, a restless, frustrated populace was left to grapple with the effects of their leaders' inability to lead them out of a pandemic. Millions were mired in unemployment and received little help from the government. Many struggled with the long-term effects of COVID-19, a medical condition that doctors are still trying to understand. Bursts of coronavirus-related violence were caught on tape. Some turned to bogus conspiracy theories.
Most jarringly, President Trump downplayed the severity of the virus to Americans from the beginning even as he recognized how deadly it was in private. He repeatedly dismissed concerns about the virus to the public, saying it was "a problem that's going to go away," and claiming to have it under control.
In April, he said he thought about 60,000 people would die from the coronavirus. It's now September, and the death toll is more than three times higher than Trump's estimate, with no end to the pandemic in sight.
The US has more COVID-19 deaths reported than anywhere in the world, followed by Brazil, India, and Mexico. US deaths make up one-fifth of the worldwide death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, despite the fact that it only makes up 4.3% of the world's population.