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The US reached yet another staggering pandemic milestone on Tuesday, surpassing 400,000 coronavirus deaths as President Donald Trump faces his last day in office overseeing a failed response to a pandemic that has devastated the country.
Daily reported cases and hospitalizations have reached record numbers nationwide during a deadly third wave that’s now coinciding with vaccine rollout problems and the spread of more contagious new variants of the virus.
The US first reached 100,000 deaths at the end of May, a little over two months into the pandemic, after a deadly hit to New York City and the Northeast. It took another four months to hit the 200,000 mark in September; though case counts over the summer were slightly higher relative to the spring, deaths were down as doctors learned more about how to treat the disease.
But when people nationwide headed indoors as the weather got colder and many traveled for the holidays, nationwide deaths reached the most staggering heights. In mid-December, the US marked 300,000 deaths. In just over a month, 100,000 more people have died of COVID-19.
The latest surge has proved devastating. Hospitals say they may soon have to begin rationing care due to the deluge of COVID-19 patients, and healthcare workers are being pushed to the brink. Earlier this month in Los Angeles, hospitals were running dangerously low on oxygen and other supplies, with some critically ill patients having to wait up to eight hours in ambulances before getting into emergency rooms.
Several new — and potentially more contagious — strains of the coronavirus originating from the US and abroad are also worrying scientists.
“Our healthcare infrastructure is already at a breaking point,” Charles Chiu, a laboratory medicine and infectious diseases expert at the University of California, San Francisco, previously told BuzzFeed News. “The introduction of a more transmissible strain might be enough to tip us over.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, Trump downplayed the spread of COVID-19 and failed to lead the country through the crisis with a coordinated federal strategy. Instead, he left it primarily to the states, while repeatedly questioning his own scientific advisers on everything from the efficacy of masks to the need for greater testing, to the utility of lockdowns. This fractured national response has now extended to the distribution of the first COVID-19 vaccines, which were developed in record time.
Even as news of the vaccine signaled an eventual end to the pandemic, the initial rollout has been spotty and haphazard, and health officials have faced challenges in combating misinformation and skepticism about the vaccines.
And with little guidance or financial support from the federal government, state and county officials have scrambled to distribute the vaccines they’ve been given. In parts of Florida, for example, people seeking to get vaccinated were required to make appointments on Eventbrite, a website that sells event and concert tickets, and elderly people are sleeping in their cars overnight to guarantee themselves a spot in the line.
Last week, President-elect Joe Biden unveiled an ambitious $1.9 trillion plan to end the pandemic and save the economy, which includes setting up a national vaccination program, expanding testing availability, and providing financial relief for businesses and individuals.
The US has the most cases of any country, with more than 23 million people testing positive for the virus to date.
The US also has the highest death toll in the world, a spot it has held since the early days of the pandemic.