U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 150,000 as Country Struggles to Contain Virus
The U.S. death toll from the new coronavirus passed 150,000 Wednesday, in a grim marker of the country's struggle to control the disease.
The U.S. has now reported more than 4.4 million confirmed cases and 150,713 deaths, according to Thursday morning figures from Johns Hopkins University. That number means the U.S. outbreak is by far the deadliest in absolute numbers. While it only holds about 5 percent of the world's population, according to NPR, it has accounted for almost a quarter of the world's 667,218 coronavirus deaths.
"Basically, none of this should have happened," commercial pilot Rob Koreman of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who has to keep abreast of the numbers because of his work, told Reuters. "We needed state coordination, if not flat-out a federal mandate."
Confirmed coronavirus deaths in the US have passed 150,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.… https://t.co/y4M8Xa8UiL— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeed News)1596054546.0
The U.S. reported its first coronavirus death Feb. 29, CNN reported. It took 54 days for that number to rise to 50,000 on April 23, 34 days for it to climb to 100,000 May 27 and another 63 days to reach 150,000. Around 33,000 of the nation's deaths were in New York and almost 16,000 were in New Jersey, NPR reported. Those states were early epicenters of the outbreak, and the nation's daily death toll is still well below the highs of April and early May.
However, the national death toll has begun to climb following a surge of cases in the South and West. The daily average of deaths for the week ending Tuesday rose above 1,000 for the first time since June 2, CNN reported. In 29 states, the average number of deaths per day was at least 10 percent higher compared to the previous week, and some states are reporting their highest daily death tolls to date. California broke its record for most deaths reported in a single day with 197 on Wednesday, while Florida broke its record two days in a row, with 186 deaths on Tuesday and 216 on Wednesday, according to NPR.
The U.S. has now surpassed 150,000 coronavirus deaths. The daily death total continues to climb and is now more t… https://t.co/Se9wDWLeMD— Mike Baker (@Mike Baker)1596054431.0
While the number of new cases is now beginning to fall slightly, public health experts expect deaths to continue to rise since mortality tends to lag behind infections, according to CNN.
"We have to do better in terms of limiting transmission," T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard chair of immunology and infectious diseases Dr. Sarah Fortune told The New York Times. "We have this terrible death toll because we have done a lousy job at limiting transmission."
The death toll has risen much higher than initial predictions, The New York Times pointed out.
In April, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hoped the toll would not rise above 60,000 and a respected research center predicted a little more than 70,000 deaths by early August.
"The aspect which is really impossible to predict is human behavior," Yale epidemiology professor Virginia Pitzer told The New York Times of the models. "To what extent are people going to socially distance themselves? To what extent are politics going to influence whether you wear a mask? All of these factors are impossible to factor in."
In early May, the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model raised its projected death toll from around 60,000 to more than 134,000 by early August due to increased movement and the easing of social distancing measures. It now predicts around 220,000 deaths by November.
"I think the fact that we as a country have not been able to get our arms around this, have not prioritized preventing those deaths is all that much more maddening. And so, for me it's frustration, it's sadness. And a resolve to try to figure out how we prevent the next 150,000," Harvard Global Health Institute Director Dr. Ashish Jha, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "I think we can, but we're really going to have to work for it."
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security issued a report Wednesday calling for a "reset" of the U.S. federal, state and local response to the pandemic in order to do just that.
Its recommendations included requiring masks across the board, increasing testing and reinstating stay-at-home orders for places where cases and hospitalizations are surging, according to CNN.
"Unlike many countries in the world, the United States is not currently on course to get control of this epidemic," the report authors wrote. "It is time to reset."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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