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More than 250,000 people have died in the United States because of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, marking a grim milestone as the country wades into another deadly wave of the pandemic with infections filling hospital beds to capacity in some cities.
The alarming number of infections has prompted some states and counties to reinstate some of the more restrictive preventative measures — such as shutting down businesses and restaurants and limiting the number of people at gatherings — to slow the spread of the deadly virus and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with patients who are severely ill.
President Donald Trump has continued to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic and the rising death toll during his final days in office, telling supporters at shoulder-to-shoulder packed rallies that the US is “rounding a corner” despite all evidence to the contrary.
The US has continued to see a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and a death rate per 100,000 people that is worse than those of countries like Italy, France, and Colombia, according to John Hopkins University and Medicine.
Among people who test positive for COVID-19, death rates have been declining since the start of the pandemic, thanks to doctors getting better at treating the patients who are most sick. But as hospitals across the country reach capacity, and as more healthcare workers get sick, there will be fewer resources available to help treat people.
President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, has established a COVID-19 task force with no assistance from the Trump administration. Biden's transition team has so far been locked out of the government’s detailed data on COVID-19 testing, therapeutics, medical supplies, hospitalizations, and more.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the election about the pandemic on Nov. 13, Trump, who has not conceded despite losing, asserted it would be his administration that would facilitate the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.
The past week has come with very good news for coronavirus vaccines in the US. Earlier this week, the drug company Moderna announced preliminary results from its coronavirus vaccine trial, suggesting its vaccine was 94.5% effective at preventing COVID-19. On Wednesday, another drug company, Pfizer, released its completed clinical trial data, showing its vaccine was 95% effective. Both companies have said that they plan to apply for emergency approval from the FDA soon. Vaccines could be distributed to health care workers as soon as December and to the rest of the population by as early as April.
Still, efforts to tackle the rapid spread of the virus through social measures, such as having businesses shut down temporarily or mandating masks, remain extremely divisive, despite studies showing that masks significantly reduce infection rates.
“This administration will not go, under any circumstances, will not go under a lockdown,” Trump said.
Some state politicians have echoed the president's sentiment. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday, Nov. 13, slammed El Paso County after local officials called for a shutdown following a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
“This flies in the face of Texas’s state-wide re-opening,” Paxton said in a statement. “My office continues to fight rogue political subdivisions like El Paso County on every legal front.”
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that the country was headed toward a challenging winter with the pandemic as some states and local jurisdictions had loosened restrictions that had previously slowed the spread of the virus.
As the holiday season and prospect of family gatherings approach, health officials have also pointed to small indoor gatherings as the cause behind a surge of COVID-19 infections. The coronavirus has been shown to spread more easily indoors, where there is a higher risk of breathing in the virus via aerosols that can linger in the air.
By Wednesday, Johns Hopkins University reported more than a quarter of a million coronavirus deaths in the US and more than 11,400,000 cases of infection.
With more cases and more people being hospitalized across the country, some states have moved to reinstate some of the strict restrictions that had been lifted earlier this year, hoping to cut the rate of infection.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine last week reported an “unprecedented spike” in the number of hospitalizations across the state.
“If we don’t control the spread of this virus, we won’t be able to care for those who are acutely ill without postponing important, but less urgent, care,” Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state’s incoming Department of Health chief medical officer, said in a statement.
DeWine also updated the state’s mask order, requiring businesses to post a sign requiring a face covering and creating a unit to inspect for compliance.
If the number of COVID-19 cases did not decrease, DeWine warned on Nov. 11, restaurants and other local businesses could be forced to close.
In New York, which was hit hard by the first wave of the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week also imposed new restrictions in an effort to avoid a second spike. Indoor restaurants, bars, and gyms were required to close by 10 p.m., and gatherings in private homes have been limited to a maximum of 10 people.
California, Oregon, and Washington state issued a joint travel advisory, urging visitors to any of these states, or residents returning, to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arriving.
California also just surpassed a sobering threshold on Nov. 13 — 1 million COVID-19 cases — with no signs of the virus slowing down, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.
“Increased cases are adding pressure on our hospital systems and threatening the lives of seniors, essential workers and vulnerable Californians,” he added.
Governors of the three states also asked residents, just two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, to limit movement to “essential travel” — work, study, critical infrastructure support, economic services, health, and security.
“If you don’t need to travel, you shouldn’t,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement. “This will be hard, especially with Thanksgiving around the corner. But the best way to keep your family safe is to stay close to home.” ●