Houston Chronicle

MONUMENTAL LOSS: Pandemic’s toll is higher than three wars combined

- By Melinda Deslatte and Tammy Webber

The COVID-19 death toll in the United States topped 500,000 Monday, a staggering number that all but matches the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

Monday’s grim milestone, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, comes as states redouble efforts to get the coronaviru­s vaccine into arms after last week’s winter weather closed clinics, slowed vaccine deliveries and forced tens of thousands of people to miss their shots.

Despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronaviru­s deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significan­tly greater, in part because many cases were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 deaths. The toll hit 200,000 in September and 300,000 in December, then took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.

But experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. And some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

Instead, the drop in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

Dr. Ryan Stanton, an emergency room physician in Lexington, Ky., who has treated scores of COVID-19 patients, said he never thought the U.S. deaths would be so high.

“I was one of those early ones that thought this may be something that may hit us for a couple months. … I definitely thought we would be done with it before we got into the fall. And I definitely didn’t see it heading off into 2021,” Stanton said.

Kristy Sourk, an intensive care nurse at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kan., said she is encouraged by the declining caseload and progress in vaccinatin­g people, but “I know we are so far from over.”

People “are still dying, and families are still isolated from their loved ones who are unable to be with them, so that is still pretty heart-wrenching,” she said.

Weather delays

Snow, ice and weather-related power outages closed some vaccinatio­n sites and held up shipments across a large swath of the nation, including in the Deep South.

As a result, the seven-day rolling average of administer­ed first doses fell by 20 percent between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The White House said that about a third of the roughly 6 million vaccine doses delayed by bad weather were delivered over the weekend, with the rest expected to be delivered by midweek, several days earlier than originally expected. White House coronaviru­s response coordinato­r Andy Slavitt on Monday attributed the improved timeline to an “all-out, round-the-clock” effort over the weekend that included employees at one vaccine distributo­r working night shifts to pack vaccines.

In Louisiana, state health officials said some doses from last week’s shipments were delivered over the weekend and were expected to continue arriving through Wednesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week’s supply arrived Monday. And in Nashville, Tenn., health officials were able to vaccinate more than 2,300 senior citizens and teachers over the weekend after days of treacherou­s weather.

“We’ll be asking the vaccine providers to do a lot,” said Louisiana’s top public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter, who expects it to take a week or two to catch up on vaccinatio­ns after a storm coated roads with ice and left many areas without running water.

‘Lost a full week’

Mary Pettersch, an 80-year-old Overland Park, Kan., retiree who is spending the winter with her 83year-old husband in Palmhurst, near McAllen, anticipate­d that the second dose they were supposed to get on Tuesday will be delayed because of last week’s harsh weather.

She made multiple calls to health officials Monday, but they weren’t returned. Still, she wasn’t too worried.

“Oh, I would like to get it, but if I can’t get it here, I will get it back home,” she said, noting that she is returning to Kansas in April. “At 80, you don’t get frustrated anymore.”

Some hospitals, clinics, community sites and pharmacies that are in Louisiana’s vaccinatio­n network will get double allocation­s of doses this week — just as Gov. John Bel Edwards starts offering shots to teachers, day care workers, pregnant women and people age 55 to 64 with certain pre-existing conditions.

New York City officials expected to catch up on vaccinatio­ns after being forced to delay scheduling tens of thousands of appointmen­ts last week, the mayor said Monday.

“That means we’ve basically lost a full week in our vaccinatio­n efforts,” de Blasio said.

More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.6 million per day received either a first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the CDC.

The nation’s supply could expand significan­tly if health regulators approve a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson.

The company said it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses by the end of March if it gets the green light and would have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June.

That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans by the end of summer. On a global scale, the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.

J&J disclosed the figures in written testimony ahead of a congressio­nal hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiven­ess of the shot, and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected this week.

J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot. The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spaced several weeks apart.

 ?? Godofredo A. Vásquez / Staff file photo ?? Mortician Jeff Sonka, center, and his assistant Manuel Santos rearrange the bodies at Compean Funeral Home in August.
Godofredo A. Vásquez / Staff file photo Mortician Jeff Sonka, center, and his assistant Manuel Santos rearrange the bodies at Compean Funeral Home in August.

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