On the final full day of Donald Trump’s presidency, the United States surpassed 400,000 coronavirus deaths. Since November, the virus that has killed as many as 4,000 Americans per day has been the leading cause of death in the country, surpassing even heart disease and cancer.
While the vaccination effort provides hope for the eventual control of the pandemic, the surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths over the past month have confirmed public-health officials’ warnings last year that this season would be the “darkest winter in modern history.” While it took over four months for the U.S. to clock its first 100,000 deaths, more than 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 in just the past five weeks. And despite representing a little over 4 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has suffered 19.5 percent of the global total of COVID-19 deaths.
The unequal toll of the virus that was clear at the beginning of the pandemic has held fast as we approach its anniversary in March. Black, Latino, and Indigenous Americans continue to suffer higher death rates than whites. Those in nursing homes and long-term living facilities continue to die at staggering rates, making up over a third of total deaths and over 6,000 deaths in the first week of 2021.
As states still struggle to provide adequate levels of testing, the vaccination effort, now a little over a month old, also faces significant roadblocks. Though the CDC updated its guidelines last week in an effort to speed up the process, states are now running out of vaccines after the Trump administration failed to secure enough doses. According to Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City will run out of shots on Thursday.
Still, there are some promising signs in the heart of the COVID winter: The incoming Biden administration has vowed to listen to scientific advisers and to prioritize bringing an end to the pandemic, and the seven-day averages of new infections and hospitalizations are falling for the first time since October.