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Exactly five months after the U.S. reported its first death linked to the coronavirus, the country passed 150,000 deaths on Wednesday — and experts say that is almost certainly an under-count.
The first death from the coronavirus was reported in the U.S. on February 29. It took 54 days to reach the 50,000 mark, and just 34 more days after that, the nation saw its 100,000th death. It has taken 63 days to add another 50,000 to reach Wednesday’s grim milestone.
The entire time, experts and officials at the White House have underestimated how many lives would be lost to the coronavirus. In April, the leading authority on infectious diseases hoped no more than 60,000 people would die. A few weeks later, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted just over 70,000 people would die by early August.
In May, the president said that at most 100,000 people might die.
But five months on from the first known death, the situation is getting worse, not better.
Wednesday marked the highest single-day jump in COVID-19 deaths since May, with California, Texas, and Florida all setting one-day records for fatalities. The death toll in the U.S. now stands at 150,713 according to data from Johns Hopkins University, with more than 4.4 million confirmed infections.
The death rates in at least 29 states were at least 10% higher this week than last week. Nationwide, the seven-day moving average of daily deaths rose above 1,000 this week for the first time since the start of June.
Thanks to a lack of clear leadership from the White House, a patchwork of rules and restrictions across states, and a rush to reopen the economy while infections were still rising, the U.S. has become the worst-hit country in the world, accounting for almost a quarter of the global coronavirus death toll.
Now, experts say, President Donald Trump needs to press the reset button.
“Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic,” a report from experts at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said. “It is time to reset.”
The report, called ‘Resetting Our Response: Changes Needed in the US Approach to COVID-19’ was published Wednesday and outlines 10 measures the White House needs to take now in order to get the spread of the coronavirus under control.
Among the measures outlined in the report are nationwide mask-wearing mandates, federal leadership to improve testing, and the reimposition of stay-at-home orders where rates of transmission are worsening.
“Without having these measures in place, it will be difficult to maintain control of outbreaks or turn the corner on an outbreak that is accelerating,” the report said. “COVID-19 has reached a point in the United States where these protective actions should no longer be called a matter of individual choice, but measures of societal responsibility.”
But there is little evidence from the White House that such measures will be taken. Trump has consistently refused to issue a federal mask-wearing order, and has only recently agreed to be seen wearing a mask in public.
Trump has been more focused on reopening the economy and ensuring that schools reopen this fall. States rushed to lift restrictions before the spread of the virus had been contained, but it looks like the U.S. is set to report a record-breaking economic downturn anyway.
On Thursday, the Commerce Department will issue its latest report on the economy. It is expected to show the economy sinking by an annual rate of 32% during the second quarter of the year — more than triple the previous worst quarterly economic fall, a 10% drop set in 1958.
“We have seen some signs in recent weeks that the increase in virus cases and the renewed measures to control it are starting to weigh on economic activity," the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said on Wednesday.
Cover: Loraine Franks, right, hugs her daughter Cheyenne Pipkin, as they visit Jerry Hogan, a Vietnam Veteran, who is lying on a bed at Lindsey Gardens after testing positive for COVID-19/Coronavirus. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)