President Joe Biden this week ordered flags at the White House and other public buildings to be flown at half-staff as the U.S. approached what he called ‘a tragic milestone’: 1 million COVID deaths.
Johns Hopkins University reported 999,298 deaths as of Friday afternoon. Statistics suggest the true numbers may be well above 1 million already, given differences in reporting requirements from one part of the country to the next.
Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, said the United States only has about 4 to 5 percent of the world population, yet has one of the highest COVID death tolls in the world. In Texas, more than 88,000 people have died from COVID, according to The New York Times.
“We are vastly overrepresented in deaths. I mean, we know how to prevent many of these infections,” Trios said. “And yet these commonsense restrictions were not put into place to protect public health. Public health, as one could tell from the word public, is a community-oriented approach, not an individualistic approach. And we have suffered, I believe, from this idea that, you know, ‘it’s my choice whether to wear a mask,’ for example, or not. Yeah, but you’re infecting other people. And that, in my mind, is not okay.”
The U.S. is passing the 1 million death mark as comes as many parts of the country continue to roll back rules put in place on mandatory mask use, social distancing and other efforts to contain and control COVID and its various mutations.
In the meantime, health experts warn we’re far from out of the woods. In fact, The New York Times and others report that White House officials are actively preparing for the possibility that 100 million Americans, almost a third of the population, will be infected with the coronavirus this fall and winter.
The Biden administration is trying to develop a strategy to prevent another spike in hospitalizations and deaths. But efforts to do that are complicated on a number of fronts, as Congress stalls on another influx of pandemic-related relief. And a lot of money Texas has been getting for COVID-19 assistance has come from the federal government, Trios said.
“It’s going to affect everybody, every state and every person in the United States if that money is not funded,” she said. “We have new vaccines that are coming out that the government won’t be able to buy. Testing, treatments are going to be also very limited because of this this lack of funding. We’re seeing an increase in cases right now throughout the country and throughout the world. It doesn’t bode well for what’s going to happen.”
If billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief isn’t approved by Congress, Troisi said, a second booster shot won’t become available, at least for free, for a majority of Americans.
Troisi also says that when available, vaccines for children under 5 will be another important factor in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but that “polls show that many parents are either going to wait or not vaccinate their child at all. So it’s a little unclear how much effect that will have in stopping the spread of the virus.”