ANALYSIS | US surpasses 500,000 deaths from covid-19 at crucial moment

The United States recorded its incomprehensible 500,000th death from COVID-19, paradoxically, at a time of unusual hope during the pandemic. However, the tragic milestone will occur with a White House reluctant to predict when the crisis will ease, while balancing critical political and epidemiological risks.

A warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN Sunday that Americans could wear face masks until 2022 came as major medical associations called for greater vigilance on people already exhausted from months of self-isolation and the economic impact of the worst public health calamity. in 100 years. But the national dichotomy between fear and hope was made clear with the announcement that more vaccines are being shipped to states than ever before and with a rapid decline in new coronavirus cases in most parts of the country.

The symbolic power of the half million figure underscores the horror of the nightmare that gripped the country a year ago. On February 23, 2020, then-President Donald Trump boasted that “we have it under control” and “we have had no deaths,” revealing his lack of preparedness for the disaster that was about to unfold during his tenure.

In contrast to the former president, who rarely bore the nation’s collective grief, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden plan to commemorate the 500,000th U.S. Covid-19 death with a candle-lighting ceremony at the White House on Monday. It will include Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff.

The current death toll of nearly 499,000 is equivalent to more than six average NFL stadiums filled with casualties – in the days when crowds could still fill massive sporting events. Each is a grandfather, father, son, daughter or brother who is part of a horrendous death toll – the worst in the world in the pandemic – almost equivalent to the combined losses of the United States in two world wars.

“It’s terrible, it’s really horrible,” Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

“In the coming decades, people are going to talk about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country, that so many people have died of a respiratory infection,” Fauci said.

Reasons for hope and new warning signs

The crisis took a president – who did not give enough priority to the health of his nation over his own political perspectives – and now puts another to the test, who promises to be “focused” this week on a package of aid for the covid of $ 1.9 trillion, designed to accelerate the end of the pandemic and alleviate its dire economic consequences.

“In the coming decades, people are going to talk about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country, that so many people have died of a respiratory infection,” Fauci said.

Reasons for hope and new warning signs

The crisis took a president – who did not give enough priority to the health of his nation over his own political perspectives – and now puts another to the test, who promises to be “focused” this week on a package of aid for the covid of $ 1.9 trillion, designed to accelerate the end of the pandemic and alleviate its dire economic consequences.

Such complications, and the desire to prepare the country for the long term if necessary, show Biden’s extremely cautious approach, which in itself contrasts with the misplaced optimism of the previous White House.

“God willing, this Christmas will be different than before,” the president said in Michigan on Friday, expanding on a comment he had first made on a CNN forum in Wisconsin earlier in the week.

But I can’t commit to you. There are other variants of the virus. We don’t know what could happen in terms of production rates (of vaccines). Things can change. But we are doing everything that science has indicated we should do and people are stepping up. “

No projections

Fauci explained Biden’s precautions on “State of the Union” when he noted that the president had warned against making screenings.

“These are just projections that are estimates and a lot can happen to change it. And that is why we have to be careful, because there are variants that must be dealt with. There are many other things that would make a projection that I give you today, this Sunday, different in six months, ”said Fauci.

This uncertainty is one of the reasons Fauci said it was “possible” that the use of masks would still be necessary in 2022, depending on the level of virus that remains in the community for the next year or more.

“When it goes down a lot and the vast majority of people in the population are vaccinated, then I would feel comfortable saying: we have to take off our masks, we don’t need to wear masks,” Fauci said.

The rapid decline in covid-19 cases, reflecting the slowing increase in the Christmas season, will inevitably increase the pressure for a faster return to normalcy. In fact, some states have already significantly eased restrictions on restaurants and retail industries. The changing dynamics will cause a growing political headache for the president if he is seeking a deliberate pace for reopening. The lesson of Trump’s hasty demands to get back to normal last summer, which helped spark a disastrous wave of infections, is that declaring victory too quickly is unwise and could create the conditions for existing and ongoing mutations. evolution of the virus find a foothold and prolong the pandemic.

Three influential medical associations issued a warning Sunday that despite signs of hope, the challenges from COVID-19 remain dire.

“With newer and more contagious variants of the virus circulating in the United States, now is not the time to lower our guard and reduce the measures that we know will work to prevent further illness and death,” said the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association in a statement.

It is a message that mirrors that of the White House: cautious optimism but knowing that the pernicious nature of this deadly pandemic, which has consistently exceeded the projected death toll and could claim tens of thousands more lives, means that it is not you can take nothing for granted.

CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Jessica Firger contributed to this story.

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