The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus hit 100,000 Wednesday, a heartbreaking reminder of the scale of the pandemic as the nation gingerly tries to revive the economy and normal life without suffering a devastating “second wave.”
The number of deaths is more than double than of any other country suffering from the global spread of the coronavirus that was discovered in humans in Wuhan, China, in December. Experts say the number might be an undercount because of a lack of testing in some places or cases that were mislabeled as pneumonia or something else.
The U.S. hit the staggering 100,000 mark just three months after the first death was attributed to the disease on Feb. 26 in Washington state, though medical evidence that emerged later suggested the first death was three weeks earlier in California.
New York has recorded the most deaths by far, with more than 23,000, followed by New Jersey with more than 11,000.
They are followed by Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which each tallied at least 5,000 deaths.
“The response in the United States to this pandemic has been abysmal, and the number of cases and deaths reflects that failure. This has forced a choice between economic pain and a worsening pandemic and public health environment,” said American University economics professor Gabriel Mathy. “Other countries have implemented successful test and trace programs and tighter lockdowns that have more effectively reduced the spread of the virus. Now we are ending lockdowns, and while initial indications are relatively good, a vaccine is months away and a reoccurrence of new cases is almost inevitable before a vaccine is widely available.”
The Democratic National Committee called it a “dark day in America” and said the number amounts to a “badge of shame that Trump will wear for the rest of his dwindling days in the Oval Office.”
There are signs that the pandemic is slowing, however. New York and New Jersey continued to report positive trends as they took gradual steps to reopen.
California became the fourth state to report 100,000 cases, though Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, is moving to reopen his state, too, by handing control to county officials as critics say he is taking too long to pivot.
President Trump is pushing states to reopen as he defends his response against critics who say he was too slow to act in January and February and to expand critical testing.
“The Radical Left Lamestream Media, together with their partner, the Do Nothing Democrats, are trying to spread a new narrative that President Trump was slow in reacting to Covid 19. Wrong, I was very fast, even doing the Ban on China long before anybody thought necessary!” he tweeted Wednesday before a trip to Florida to watch a space launch, which was ultimately canceled.
Even as Mr. Trump highlights efforts to “transition to greatness,” case numbers are rising in hot spots across America, including places with prisons or meatpacking plants.
The Washington region continues to struggle, too, with case counts hitting a plateau.
Still, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said the nation’s capital would move to phase one reopening on Friday, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said more businesses as well as youth sports, day camps and outdoor pools would be able to partially open in most of the state.
Washington-area lawmakers scolded the Trump administration for forging ahead with plans to hold another “Salute to America” on the National Mall on July Fourth. They said it would be impossible to host large crowds safely and would risk wider transmission, though the White House said it would take precautions.
Some lawmakers and public health experts are girding for a “second wave,” perhaps in the fall, if the disease persists and mitigation efforts fail.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that the U.S. can prevent a “second wave” of outbreaks with proper measures in place.
“We can prevent this second wave,” Dr. Fauci said on CNN. “It could happen, but it is not inevitable.”
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed the need for measures such as contact tracing and isolation.
He said images of frolicking people in crowds who weren’t wearing protective masks were “very troubling” and that associated adverse effects might not show up for weeks.
“That’s not prudent, and that’s inviting a situation that could get out of” control, he said. “We are going to see upticks of cases even under the best of circumstances.”
Mr. Mathy said a second-wave outbreak that further depresses economic activity, combined with an ineffective policy response by the government, would be the “worst-case scenario.”
“This could produce another Great Depression. This is not a likely outcome, but forecasting the economy in normal times is difficult. In such an unprecedented crisis, it’s almost impossible,” he said. “There will certainly be a long-term recovery, and the short-term recovery will be determined by the course of the pandemic. If the effects of the virus continue to diminish and public health improves, the economy will bounce back quickly. If the pandemic worsens again, the short-term recovery will be slow and it will become a slow long-term recovery.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he is focused on balancing his state’s books from the damage that has occurred. He scolded Republican lawmakers who have resisted attempts to approve relief funding for state and local governments and dubbed them a “blue-state bailout.”
“This is an ugly, ugly sentiment,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It is an un-American response. We are still the United States of America. Those words meant something.
“Stop abusing the states who bore the brunt of the COVID virus, through no fault of their own,” he said in Washington after meeting with the president.
He said hard-hit states such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania put more tax money in the “federal pot” than they take out. The states that pocket the most federal dollars, he said, were Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Alabama and Florida.
“Pass a piece of legislation that is honorable and decent and does the right thing for all Americans. Why is that so hard?” he said.
The governor spoke from the National Press Club in Washington after his meeting with Mr. Trump, which was billed as a chance to talk about infrastructure projects.
“It was not about politics. It was not about any of that,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It was about how do we supercharge the reopening, especially in New York, which has been hardest-hit.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, while flying to Florida, told reporters, “Gov. Cuomo said the president is doing a fantastic job.”
Yet Mr. Trump faced criticism within his party.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a top-ranking House Republican from Wyoming, scolded the president for tweeting a conspiracy theory about cable news host Joe Scarborough. The president has suggested that Mr. Scarborough, during his time in Congress, was somehow responsible for the death two decades ago of an aide who fainted and hit her head at one of his Florida offices.
“I do think the president should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough. I think we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Ms. Cheney said. “He’s the commander in chief of this nation, and it’s causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died. So I would urge him to stop it.”
Meanwhile, Democrats from Maryland, the District and Virginia said they are seriously concerned about Mr. Trump’s plans to hold another military celebration on July Fourth because the region still has high infection rates.
“Given the current COVID-19 crisis, we believe such an event would needlessly risk the health and safety of thousands of Americans,” Democratic senators and House representatives from the region wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “Further, this event would come at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars while we are facing an unprecedented economic downturn due to the pandemic.”
Mr. Trump organized the first event on the Mall last year. It featured military vehicles, a presidential address and a flyover by the armed forces, leading some to praise it for its patriotic spirit and others to deride it as a political gimmick that evoked a Trump rally and piggybacked on existing traditions.
The White House says organizers will take precautions as it plans another version for July Fourth, which is about five weeks away.
“As President Trump has said, there will be an Independence Day celebration this year, and it will have a different look than 2019 to ensure the health and safety of those attending,” White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said. “The American people have shown tremendous courage and spirit in the fight against this global pandemic just as our forefathers did in the fight to secure our independence, and both deserve celebration on America’s birthday this year.”