This article originally appeared on VICE US.
The US will likely confirm its millionth case of coronavirus on Monday, as a top public health official warns that the country is “not out of the woods by any means” despite deaths and infection rates levelling off.
The US is, by some distance, the worst-hit country in the world when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday morning, 965,933 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed, along with 54,877 deaths.
The next worst-hit country in terms of infections in Spain, with 226,619 infections. In terms of deaths, Italy is the second worst-hit country with 26,644 deaths, according to data gathered by Johns’ Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
However, on a per capita basis, the U.S death toll trails that of Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and the UK. Overall, the US has reported fewer deaths per capita than Europe as a whole. There are also disparities in how each country is reporting deaths with some nations omitting deaths in nursing homes, while other countries are including probable COVID-19 deaths.
Public health experts say the true death toll in the US and elsewhere is likely significantly higher, as the methods for counting deaths differ from state-to-state and the lack of adequate testing capacity means that early deaths during the outbreak may not have been included.
One analysis over the weekend suggests the global death toll – which currently stands at 207,000 – could be underestimated by as much as 60 percent.
The US will officially pass the one-million mark as authorities across the country argue about when to lift restrictions on movement. Some states have already lifted restrictions: in California, tens of thousands of residents flocked to the beach and flouted social distancing rules this weekend after Orange County's Board of Supervisors voted earlier this week to reopen some beaches.
Georgia, Oklahoma, Alaska, and South Carolina have already begun the process of lifting restrictions, while Colorado, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, and Tennessee will join them this week.
These decisions fly in the face of most advice from public health experts, who point out that while the number of infections and deaths is levelling off, the problems are far from over.
Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that the US is likely "near the end of the beginning” as officials have found a nationwide plateau in new cases of the virus each day.
“I would say we are maybe near the end of the beginning of the pandemic in this country," Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told “Fox News Sunday”, adding that though “we have a plateau in new cases per day, unfortunately, it's a very high plateau" with around 30,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 2,000 deaths every day.
Inglesby added that the US is "not out of the woods by any means,” contradicting a claim made earlier on Sunday by Vice President Mike Pence that by Memorial Day Weekend on May 25, "we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.”
Inglesby pointed out that “if you go state-by-state you see that in about half of the country the numbers are still rising day to day, about another third seems to be a levelling off and in a minority of the country the numbers are going down day by day,” adding that he doesn't "think it's likely we will be in that position by Memorial Day.”
In New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, officials have extended restrictions until at least May 15. The state reported 367 new deaths on Sunday, its lowest day-over-day increase since March 30. Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated that construction and manufacturing would be the first industries to restart, but only in the upstate region, and only if cases continue to decline.
But whatever efforts are made to lift restrictions and put some of the 26 million people who have lost their jobs back to work, the reality is that the coronavirus will not disappear any time soon.
Inglesby said he agreed with Anthony Fauci, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, that the virus could become “seasonal,” meaning that, until a vaccine has been developed — which could take more than a year — COVID-19 will continue to return.
“Trends can change over time, but at this point, we have a plateau in new cases per day,” Inglesby said. “More importantly, wherever we are in the epidemic, this virus is going to be with us until we have a vaccine.”