US COVID-19 death toll hits 500,000 as hospital cases drop

White flags representing COVID-19 deaths
White flags representing COVID-19 deaths

Victoria Pickering / Flickr cc

Today the United States met a grim milestone: In 1 year, more than half a million Americans have died from COVID-19, as at least 28,174,133 million have suffered infections, thousands have lost jobs, and all have had the pandemic touch multiple aspects of everyday life.

To mark the passing of 500,000 Americans, President Joe Biden today will hold a moment of silence and candle-lighting ceremony at sundown at the White House.

The Washington Post today put the 500,000 death toll in context. The first US death from COVID-19 was reported on Feb 29, 2020. By May 28, 100,000 had died. Deaths remained at a fairly steady clip until a post-holiday surge.

It took only 1 month, from Jan 19 to today, for the nation's death tally to grow from 400,000 to 500,000.

Now, more Americans have died from COVID-19 than American soldiers in both World Wars and Vietnam, combined. And the New York Times pointed out the death toll means 1 in 670 Americans have died from the virus.

The United States has the most reported deaths from COVID-19 in the world, followed by Brazil (246,605), Mexico (180,107), and India (156,385), according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Hospitalizations rates fall to pre-holiday levels

Despite the enormous death toll, there are signs the pandemic is loosening its grip in the United States.

The country reported 56,079 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, and 1,235 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. And there are 56,159 COVID-19 patients in US hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That's the lowest reported number of hospitalized patients since November.

And vaccination is expected to pick up across the country again this week after severe winter weather delayed activities last week.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , 75,205,940 doses of vaccine have been delivered to states, with 64,177,474 doses administered. Over 19 million Americans have received the full 2-dose series, and more than 44 million have had at least one dose. 

Teachers' role in school transmission

A study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) today examines nine clusters of COVID-19 cases associated with a single Georgia school district between Dec 1, 2020 and Jan 22, 2021. The clusters involved 13 educators and 32 students at six elementary schools.

An educator was the index case in four of the clusters, and a student was the index case in one cluster. Eight clusters, all but one, involved at least one educator and probable educator-to-student transmission, the authors said.

Two clusters involved probable educator-to-educator transmission during in-person meetings or lunches, and those educators then transmitted to students in the classroom, resulting in 15 of 31 (48%) school-associated cases.

Although the school district promoted a number of mitigation strategies, including physical distancing of 3 feet and universal masking except at lunch time, interviews revealed that inadequate mask use in students likely contributed to spread in five clusters.

"These findings suggest that educators can play an important role in in-school transmission and that in-school transmission can occur when physical distancing and mask compliance are not optimal," the authors concluded.

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