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Late on Saturday, the United States reached a grim milestone, surpassing Italy to become the country with the most coronavirus deaths in the world. According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, as of early Sunday morning, the United States had 20,608 reported deaths from COVID-19, compared to Italy’s 19,468 fatalities. American losses now represent a little more than 18 percent of the global total of over 113,000.
The number comes with some caveats: In the United States, it could be too low, as New York, the city impacted most severely by the crisis, hasn’t been reporting the upsurge in home deaths that are likely due to the virus. (Last week, the NYC Health Department changed the policy to include “deaths that may be linked to COVID but not lab-confirmed that occur at home.”) China’s confirmed cases and deaths are also, most likely, dramatically lower than the real numbers, as American intelligence reportedly found that Beijing has intentionally undercounted its outbreak.
The death count is a solemn reminder of the Trump administration’s failure to prepare in the key months of January and February, despite knowing of the threat of a pandemic as early as November. Though Friday was the country’s deadliest day yet, with 2,057 deaths reported, there are clear signs that social distancing efforts are working to dampen the crisis: Hospitalizations in New York are down, and it does not appear that the city’s outbreak will exceed its hospital capacity.
Saturday’s news of the death count was followed up by an equally historic event on Sunday, when President Trump approved a disaster declaration for Wyoming, the final state to call for emergency measures. For the first time in American history, all 50 states are under federal disaster declarations simultaneously.