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The US on Monday marked yet another grim milestone: 300,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began in March.
In less than a month, more than 50,000 people died of COVID-19 in the US.
Despite the devastating toll, there is the promise of hope: A highly effective vaccine made by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, following an overwhelming 17–4 vote of confidence from an advisory panel of independent experts. The first shipments of the vaccine left Pfizer’s Michigan facility early Sunday. By Monday morning, the same day the US hit 300,000 COVID-19 deaths, healthcare workers across the country began receiving the shots.
The vaccine will finally help slow the virus’s staggering spread across the country besieged by a surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Officials estimate that enough doses to give 20 million people their first shots will be delivered by the end of the year.
The US death toll — the highest in the world — comes days after the country broke a daily record for virus-related deaths, with more than 3,000 fatalities reported. The record before that was set on April 15 when 2,752 people died, accord to the New York Times.
Last week, CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that for the next 60 to 90 days, “we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor.”
Over the past several weeks, there have been alarming reports of overrun hospitals and morgues, victims’ bodies piled in refrigerated trucks, and overwhelmed healthcare workers — eerily reminiscent of the early stages of the pandemic when densely populated cities like New York were hit the hardest.
Now, multiple states are grappling with another COVID-19 surge as starkly evident by the red-steeped maps that track the virus’s spread.
As cases continue to rise in New York and Los Angeles, the second and third waves of the virus are also hitting rural areas, smaller cities, and remote communities that are inadequately prepared to fight the spread. More than 1 million rural Americans have tested positive, according to the National Rural Health Association.
Public health experts warned that holiday gatherings in December would likely worsen the spread that was exacerbated by Thanksgiving-related travel and get-togethers.
Even as hopeful news of more than one vaccine brings the end of the pandemic in sight, officials are urging people to do their part in mitigating the spread by staying home, wearing masks, and following their citywide and statewide restrictions.
During a vaccine summit at the White House, outgoing Vice President Mike Pence urged Americans to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, saying, “It’s the way we’ll see our way through the months ahead, between now and when the coronavirus vaccine — that will likely be approved this week — will be widely available for every American.”
As President Donald Trump engages in futile legal efforts to overturn the election results (while two members of his legal team have COVID-19), President-elect Joe Biden is laying out his plans to tackle the costly and challenging task of vaccinating millions of Americans, many of whom are skeptical about the virus and the vaccine. Biden said he plans to give 50 million Americans COVID-19 vaccines in his first 100 days in office.
White House officials, many of whom echoed Trump’s cavalier disregard toward the pandemic and frequently flouted coronavirus restrictions, will be among the first to receive vaccinations. Trump later tweeted that he would ask for an “adjustment” to the program where White House staffers “should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary.”
Meanwhile, Congress has made little progress in providing financial relief to millions of unemployed Americans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday rejected a $900 billion bipartisan COVID-19 relief plan, continuing the monthslong Congressional stalemate over providing much-needed aid to struggling families.
With the US hitting bleak COVID-19 milestones, the nation’s top health experts are urging many in the country to come out of coronavirus denial.
“Trouble is, you go to different parts of the country, and even when the outbreak is clear and hospitals are on the verge of being overrun, there are a substantial proportion of the people who still think that this is not real — that it’s fake news or that it’s a hoax,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at an event recently. “We’ve got to overcome that and pull together as a nation uniformly with adhering to these public health measures.”