POST 251. May 16, 2022. CORONAVIRUS. “Now, nearly one million people have died. It did not have to be this way.”

“We are a country with the best doctors in the world, we got a vaccine in an astoundingly short period of time, and yet we’ve had so many deaths…”

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THE MAGNITUDE OF THE country’s loss is nearly impossible to grasp.

More Americans have died of Covid-19 than in two decades of car crashes or on battlefields in all of the country’s wars combined.

Experts say deaths were all but inevitable from a new virus of such severity and transmissibility. Yet, one million dead is a stunning toll, even for a country the size of the United States, and the true number is almost certainly higher because of undercounting.

It is the result of many factors, including elected officials who played down the threat posed by the coronavirus and resisted safety measures; a decentralized, overburdened health care system that struggled with testing, tracing and treatment; and lower vaccination and booster rates than other rich countries, partly the result of widespread mistrust and resistance fanned by right-wing media and politicians…

Understanding the toll — who makes up the one million and how the country failed them — is essential as the pandemic continues. More than 300 people are still dying of Covid every day.. ..

Among wealthy countries, the United States has been notably unsuccessful at persuading residents to get fully vaccinated and boosted. Today, about a third of people across the United States have not been fully vaccinated, and some 70 percent of the population has not received a booster. (By contrast, 17 percent of people in Canada have not been fully vaccinated, and 46 percent have not had boosters.)

Nearly half of the deaths from Covid in the United States occurred after vaccines were made widely available. The failure to vaccinate, epidemiologists say, contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths. During the Omicron wave in December 2021 and January 2022, for instance, the Covid death rate in the United States was higher than in Germany, France, Britain or Canada, which had each fully vaccinated and boosted larger shares of their populations.


“The president called on Congress to urgently provide billions of dollars more for testing, vaccines and treatments, something lawmakers have been unwilling to deliver so far.

That lack of funding — Biden has requested an additional $22.5 billion in what he calls critically needed money — is a U.S. reflection of faltering resolve that jeopardizes the global response to the pandemic, he says.

Eight months after he used the first COVID summit to announce an ambitious pledge to donate 1.2 billion vaccine doses to the world, the urgency of the U.S. and other nations to respond has waned.

Momentum on vaccinations and treatments has faded even as more infectious variants rise and billions of people across the globe remain unprotected…

After the delivery of more than 1 billion vaccines to the developing world, the problem is no longer a lack of shots but of logistical support to get doses into arms. According to government data, more than 680 million donated vaccine doses have been left unused in developing countries because they were expiring and couldn’t be administered quickly enough. As of March, 32 poorer countries had used less than half of the COVID-19 vaccines they were sent.

U.S. assistance to promote and facilitate vaccinations overseas dried up earlier this year, and Biden has requested about $5 billion for the effort through the rest of the year.

“We have tens of millions of unclaimed doses because countries lack the resources to build out their cold chains, which basically is the refrigeration systems, to fight disinformation and to hire vaccinators,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week…

Biden has warned that without Congress acting, the U.S. could lose out on access to the next generation of vaccines and treatments, and that the nation won’t have enough supply of booster doses or the antiviral drug Paxlovid for later this year. He’s also sounding the alarm that more variants will spring up if the U.S. and the world don’t do more to contain the virus globally.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha pressed the need for the U.S. to fund global vaccination efforts as a way to protect Americans at home, warning that strains like delta and omicron first sprang up overseas.

“All of these variants were first identified outside of the United States,” he said. “If the goal is to protect the American people, we have got to make sure the world is vaccinated. There’s just no domestic-only approach here.”  (B)

“Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview on Thursday that the COVID-19 death toll of 1 million people in the U.S. is “incredibly tragic” and added that “many of those deaths were avoidable.”

“I mean, the idea of 1 million deaths in an outbreak, that is historic in nature. We have had nothing like this in well over 104 years. One of the parts about it that adds to the tragedy is that many of those deaths were avoidable, avoidable if people had been vaccinated,” Fauci told Amna Nawaz of PBS.

“It’s estimated that, if people had been vaccinated to a much greater extent right now, that vaccines would have avoided at least a quarter of those deaths, namely about 250,000.”..

The interview comes as Congress remains stalled over COVID-19 funding the White House warns is much needed to keep up with vaccinations and boosters, among other necessities.

If Congress cannot come to a deal, the U.S. could face risks such as shortages of tests, vaccines and COVID-19 treatments, in addition to an inability to fund new potential breakthrough treatments.

“First of all, we won’t have enough antivirals. We won’t be able to develop newer and better antivirals. We won’t be able to have a booster for everyone, and we will not be able to get the best possible boosters,” he said, outlining how the U.S. could be impacted without proper pandemic funding.

“We have studies right now that are lined up to try and figure out what the most appropriate booster will be for the fourth shot that likely people will need as we get into the fall. If we don’t get the resources that we asked for, we’re not going to be able to do that,” he added.” (C)

“The number of new coronavirus cases reported worldwide has continued to fall except in the Americas and Africa, the World Health Organization said in its latest assessment of the pandemic…

The downward trend in reported infections began in March, although many countries have dismantled their widespread testing and surveillance programs, making an accurate count of cases extremely difficult.

WHO said there were only two regions where reported COVID-19 infections increased: the Americas, by 14%, and Africa, by 12%. Cases remained stable in the Western Pacific and fell everywhere else, the agency said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned during a press briefing this week that “the rising cases in more than 50 countries highlights the volatility of this virus.”

Tedros said COVID-19 variants, including mutated versions of the highly infectious omicron, are driving a resurgence of COVID-19 in several countries, including South Africa, which was the first to identify omicron in November.” (D)

“New coronavirus cases surged in most counties in New York State this week, putting them on “high” alert under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and triggering recommendations for indoor masking, including inside schools.

The state refrained from imposing an indoor mask mandate, but health officials on Friday afternoon did urge residents living in counties that have been placed on “medium” or “high” alert to wear masks in indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

“These public health measures, as well as ensuring proper air ventilation when gathering, will help reduce Covid-19 transmission in communities and lower the risk of serious illness and hospitalization for individuals,” the state health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, said in a statement.

As of Thursday, the average of new cases stood at more than 10,000 a day, according to a New York Times database. New cases have increased 47 percent over the past two weeks, and hospitalizations have increased 28 percent over that time period, to an average of more than 2,600 a day.

As of Thursday, the seven-day average of daily deaths stood at 20, up from 15 two weeks ago, according to the Times database…

Mayor Adams, who has focused on rolling back a number of pandemic policies in an effort to reopen the city, called the rise a “slow uptick.”

“Our hospitals and deaths — those numbers are really at a solid place,” he said at a news conference on Friday. “We’re going to be prepared and not panicked.”…

However, Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health, noted that testing is much lower than it once was. And widely used home tests are not usually reported. Both factors mean that case numbers could be much higher than the official counts.

About 77 percent of people are fully vaccinated in the state, a figure that rises to 79 percent in New York City. Covid-19 treatments available to certain at-risk populations may also be reducing the number of serious cases and keeping hospitalization rates relatively low.

“We have very good vaccination coverage and, although booster coverage hasn’t been so great, it’s been stable for a while,” said Dr. Nash.

“I think that we don’t yet know if we could absorb a big surge in transmission without seeing a substantial increase in hospitalizations and deaths,” he added.

If hospitalizations and deaths begin to rise quickly, government officials should consider “some reinstatement of measures to protect New Yorkers,” Dr. Nash said.” (E)

“If the United States had the same Covid death rate as Australia, about 900,000 lives would have been saved…

For many Americans, imagining what might have been will be painful. But especially now, at the milestone of one million deaths in the United States, the nations that did a better job of keeping people alive show what Americans could have done differently and what might still need to change.

Many places provide insight. Japan. Kenya. Norway. But Australia offers perhaps the sharpest comparisons with the American experience. Both countries are English-speaking democracies with similar demographic profiles. In Australia and in the United States, the median age is 38. Roughly 86 percent of Australians live in urban areas, compared with 83 percent of Americans.

Yet Australia’s Covid death rate sits at one-tenth of America’s, putting the nation of 25 million people (with around 7,500 deaths) near the top of global rankings in the protection of life.

Australia’s location in the distant Pacific is often cited as the cause for its relative Covid success. That, however, does not fully explain the difference in outcomes between the two countries, since Australia has long been, like the United States, highly connected to the world through trade, tourism and immigration. In 2019, 9.5 million international tourists came to Australia. Sydney and Melbourne could just as easily have become as overrun with Covid as New York or any other American city.

So what went right in Australia and wrong in the United States?

For the standard slide-show presentation, it looks obvious: Australia restricted travel and personal interaction until vaccinations were widely available, then maximized vaccine uptake, prioritizing people who were most vulnerable before gradually opening up the country again.

From one outbreak to another, there were also some mistakes: breakdowns of protocol in nursing homes that led to clusters of deaths; a vaccine rollout hampered by slow purchasing. And with Omicron and eased restrictions, deaths have increased.

But Australia’s Covid playbook produced results because of something more easily felt than analyzed at a news conference. Dozens of interviews, along with survey data and scientific studies from around the world, point to a lifesaving trait that Australians displayed from the top of government to the hospital floor, and that Americans have shown they lack: trust, in science and institutions, but especially in one another.

When the pandemic began, 76 percent of Australians said they trusted the health care system (compared with around 34 percent of Americans), and 93 percent of Australians reported being able to get support in times of crisis from people living outside their household.

In global surveys, Australians were more likely than Americans to agree that “most people can be trusted” — a major factor, researchers found, in getting people to change their behavior for the common good to combat Covid, by reducing their movements, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Partly because of that compliance, which kept the virus more in check, Australia’s economy has grown faster than America’s through the pandemic.

But of greater import, interpersonal trust — a belief that others would do what was right not just for the individual but for the community — saved lives. Trust mattered more than smoking prevalence, health spending or form of government, a study of 177 countries in The Lancet recently found. And in Australia, the process of turning trust into action began early.” (F)