US Covid death toll hits 300k as vaccine rollout begins


New York

The number of dead from the coronavirus pandemic in the US has topped 300,000 on the day that the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered.
A rolling count by NBC News shows the country hitting the grim milestone on Monday morning. The same count has more than 16.4 million confirmed cases of the virus — the largest number in the world.
As the nation struggles to cope with the surge of new infections and the strain on medical services, an ICU nurse in New York City became one of the first people to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine outside of the trial stage of development.
Only 27 days have passed since the US hit 250,000 deaths, making this the fastest increase since the pandemic began. More than 200,000 new cases are being reported every day that could have been prevented with a stricter adherence to social distancing and mask wearing.
By some estimates there could be 500,000 deaths by the time the vaccine is widely available to the general population by the early summer of 2021, and at current rates of increase it might just be one month before another 100,000 Americans die from the virus.
South Dakota and North Dakota have led the nation in deaths per capita. As the early epicentre of the US outbreak, New York and New Jersey lead the nation in per capita deaths.
Last week, Robert Redfield, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the virus has surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death in the US.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has warned the city to prepare for the possibility of a “total lockdown” as Covid cases continue to soar across the five boroughs.
At least 124 new coronavirus deaths and 10,027 new cases were reported in the city on Sunday.
Over the past week, there has been an average of 10,031 cases per day, an increase of 56 per cent from the average two weeks earlier.
More than 109,000 people with the virus are now in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, far eclipsing the 60,000 who filled wards during the previous peaks in April and July.
On a single day last week, the U.S. recorded more than 3,300 COVID-19 deaths, easily exceeding the heights reached in April, when the New York City area was the epicenter.
Doctors now have far more experience in treating patients, and a few drugs have been approved to speed recovery. But the toll now is far more widespread, reaching into rural areas and small and medium-size communities that don’t have big-city resources.
In Waterloo, Iowa, Dr. Stacey Marlow called the wife of an 89-year-old COVID-19 patient in his final hours, not realizing until well into the conversation that the couple’s son had also died of the virus in her hospital just two days earlier.
“We see these horror stories every day so they start to run together,” said Marlow, who works in the emergency room at UnityPoint Allen Hospital.
In Los Angeles, the county’s health director, Barbara Ferrer, fought tears during a televised briefing last week as she reported a steep rise in local deaths, up to an average of 43 each day, compared with roughly a dozen in mid-November.
“Over 8,000 people who were beloved members of their families are not coming back,” Ferrer said.
In Columbia, South Carolina, the family of a third-grade teacher, Staci Blakely, asked the school district to announce her death in hopes of persuading the public to take the virus seriously.
“One of the ways we can celebrate her life is being sure that we continue to take care of each other,” schools Superintendent Greg Little said.
And then there are the families and colleagues of health care workers who are still being lost to COVID-19, even as hope draws within view.
For weeks now, Dr. James Williams has been hearing the voice of his friend Dr. Juan Fitz, an emergency room physician in Lubbock, Texas, who was hospitalized for the virus this fall after months of triaging COVID-19 patients.
“I am airborne. I am cavalry,” the 67-year-old Fitz said over the summer, describing his role in taking on the pandemic. “I go into the thick of it and, challenged by the situation, find ways to improve and sort things out.”
He died on Nov. 3. “I’m sorry, it still gets me,” a distraught Williams said Friday, hours before the first vaccine won approval. Choking back tears, he recalled his last text message to Fitz, one the soldier-in-scrubs never answered.
Please know, he wrote, “you have an Army of friends and colleagues pulling for you.”—AP