The United States has seen more than 250,000 deaths due to Covid-19 as a new swath of data was released that pushed the stricken country over the grim landmark on Wednesday.
Latest figures from Johns Hopkins University showed that the number of people killed by the virus is now 250,180.
The news comes amid record infections across the US, with the Trump administration repeatedly failing to get a grip on the Covid-19 crisis. Most recently Trump has refused to concede he lost the presidential election to Joe Biden who this week said “more people may die” if he continues to hamper his transition.
More than 11 million Americans have been infected during the pandemic, by far the largest total in the world; the US also has the highest death toll, and is among the worst-hit of developed nations in terms of its death rate.
For the past two weeks more than 100,000 people have been infected every day as the country has seen huge rises in positive cases in almost every state, but especially in the midwest and Great Plains states.
Earlier on Wednesday, in a sign of the increasing lockdown steps being taken around the US, officials announced that public schools in New York City will close again, on Thursday, after the city reached a 3% Covid test positivity rate.
Case rates are surging in states and cities around the country. In California this week, the governor announced he was pulling the “emergency brake” on reopening, while Los Angeles is bracing for a mandatory curfew.
Hopes of relief on the horizon have grown after the makers of two leading vaccine candidates announced their drugs are far more effective than initially predicted. But these vaccines are months away and will face complex logistical challenges.
Experts are sounding warnings the country could face a difficult winter if safety measures are not widely adopted.
Michael Osterholm, an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, told NBC recently: “We are in a very dangerous period – the most dangerous public health period since 1918.”
Critics say the Trump administration has all but surrendered to the pandemic especially now that he is a lame duck president with little political motivation to take tough measures. Trump has not attended a coronavirus taskforce meeting in “at least five months”, the public health expert Dr Anthony Fauci said last weekend.
Fauci recommends “uniform wearing of masks” to help curb the US outbreak, he told CNN on Tuesday.
On Monday Fauci told NBC’s Today that “by the end of December there will be doses of vaccine available for individuals in the high-risk category” from both Moderna and Pfizer.
He added: “The fact that help is on the way should spur us even more to double down on some of the public health measures, to be able to use the combination of a vaccine and public health measures to turn this thing around. We can do it.”
Trump has declined to enforce mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, and said his administration will not implement any further lockdowns. He has also refused to participate in the transition process, meaning information on Covid-19 is not being shared with Biden, who has appointed his own pandemic advisory group.
The president remained silent on the milestone, instead spending the evening continuing to push baseless claims of election fraud on Twitter.
On Wednesday, a White House taskforce report warned of “aggressive, unrelenting, broad community spread across the country, without evidence of improvement but, rather, further deterioration”.
The report, which was leaked widely to the media, added: “Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased.”
Across the US, there is a patchwork response by local state governments. Some states are implementing tighter controls, such as California, Washington, Minnesota and Maryland, where healthcare systems are under serious strain. Oregon and New Mexico have implemented new social restrictions, while North Dakota has introduced a mask mandate. From Monday, the Navajo Nation will enter a three-week stay-at-home advisory period.
However, other hard-hit states, such as South Dakota, have taken little action to combat the new surge of the virus even as it stretches their hospital network to the limits.
Kentucky, meanwhile, announced new restrictions on gatherings on Wednesday. Speaking at a news conference the governor, Andy Beshear, said that “when fighting Covid-19, action is unpopular, but inaction is deadly”.