The United States on Tuesday recorded its 200,000th coronavirus death, a world-leading figure that health experts say could continue to increase by tens of thousands in the coming months.
The growing death toll has far surpassed the earliest estimates of the carnage left by the pandemic, a figure that is nearly double the total U.S. military casualties in wars the U.S. has fought in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq since the end of World War II.
In April, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the death toll would be “more like 60,000,” while U.S. President Donald Trump, who early on minimized the coronavirus as something akin to seasonal flus, in May said the toll could be anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000.
Now, health analysts at the University of Washington say the death toll could reach 410,000 by the end of the year.
In late April, more than 2,000 deaths a day were being recorded in the U.S. Now the figure is close to 800 deaths daily. Medical researchers are trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine and could have approval for a preventative in the coming months. Without one yet, though, and seasonal colder weather arriving, experts fear the daily death toll could increase again.
The U.S. has the highest death toll among all nations, but some countries in Europe and Latin America have recorded more deaths per capita.
President Trump offered no immediate comment on Tuesday’s milestone figure, preferring instead to comment on Twitter about other issues, including his pending choice to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that comes six weeks ahead of his November 3 contest for re-election against his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The state of the fight against the virus has become a major point of contention in the campaign for a new four-year term in the White House, with Biden accusing the president of mismanaging the country’s response leading to preventable deaths, while Trump gave himself “an A-plus" grade in an interview Monday.
"They are dying. That's true. And you — it is what it is," Trump said in a late July interview with the Axios news site. "But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control as much as you can control it."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked Tuesday at a news briefing what the White House says to Americans who blame it for the 200,000 deaths. She replied, “The fact that we have come nowhere near 2 million deaths is a testament to this president taking immediate action.”
The World Health Organization announced Monday that 156 nations will take part in a global initiative to develop, manufacture and equally distribute a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, said 64 wealthy nations have agreed to take part in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, dubbed COVAX, a joint project undertaken by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, an organization founded by Bill and Melinda Gates to vaccinate children in the world’s poorest countries.
The initiative is aiming to deliver up to 2 billion doses of a safe and effective vaccine around the world by the end of 2021, initially targeting 3% of participating countries’ populations, namely healthcare workers and those at high-risk of the disease, with the further goal of discouraging a handful of nations from hoarding the vaccine.
Tedros said another 38 nations are expected to join COVAX in the coming days. “This is not charity; it’s in every country’s best interest,” he said. “We sink or we swim together.”
Missing from the list of participating nations are the United States, China and Russia. The U.S. previously announced it will not take part in COVAX because of WHO’s leading role in the effort. Trump withdrew the United States from the WHO in July, after saying the agency mishandled the outbreak and showed deference to China, where the virus was first detected late last year.
The Trump administration has launched a COVID-19 vaccine initiative, Operation Warp Speed, that aims to deliver 300 million doses of an approved vaccine by January. The initiative has distributed billions of dollars to a handful of pharmaceutical companies to develop, manufacture and test a potential vaccine.
Russia and China have also launched coronavirus vaccine development programs.