COVID death toll tops 400,000 in U.S. as new mutations continue to spread
The coronavirus pandemic hit another stunning milestone Tuesday, with the U.S. death toll soaring past 400,000 as new variants continue to pop up across the country.
The deadly marker, confirmed by Johns Hopkins University, represents about one-fifth of all reported deaths around the world and comes less than a year after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the U.S.
The latest 100,000 deaths in this country came just a month after the nation’s toll hit 300,000. The next 100,000 deaths are likely to happen at a similar pace, or faster, one of President-elect Joe Biden’s top officials warned Sunday.
“By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who is nominated to lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
The horrifying prediction follows a surge of infections and hospitalizations in multiple states, including Alabama and California, as well as a nationwide average of more than 3,200 new deaths a day over the past week, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The American Medical Association lamented the “once unimaginable” death toll and urged Americans to continue taking precautions to protect themselves from the virus.
“One in every 820 people in our country have died during this pandemic — often alone, typically away from family and friends — comforted only by physicians and nurses in layers of PPE,” the group’s president, Dr. Susan Bailey, said in a statement Tuesday.
“With a more contagious strain of COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the country, the simple steps we’ve advocated for months are more important than ever: wear your mask, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands, to help reduce illness and deaths,” she added.
Ten months after the World Health Organization declared the global health crisis a pandemic, the virus has become so genetically diverse that new variants are taking over the main strain in some regions of the world. In the U.K., a highly contagious variant that has already spread to the U.S. and other countries has become dominant in parts of England. In Ohio, an evolving version of the U.K. strain has become the “dominant virus” in Columbus, researchers confirmed last week.
The CDC expects the U.K. variant to become dominant in this country by March.
Other variants have been reported in Brazil and South Africa. But despite growing concerns about new mutations spreading around the world, vaccines still seem to work against them.
Dr. Pardis Sabeti, an evolutionary biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, said one of the concerns is that the virus “may stumble upon a mutation” that makes it more dangerous.
“We’re in a race against time,” he told The Associated Press.