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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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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