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US surpasses 400,000 deaths from Covid-19

By Christina Maxouris and Jason Hanna, CNN

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(CNN)The United States has reported at least 400,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of Tuesday afternoon.

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

That's more than the number of Americans who died in World War I, Vietnam War and the Korean War combined, and nearly as many Americans who died in World War II. It's far higher than any other country's Covid-19 death toll.

The pandemic's death toll has risen sharply in increments of 100,000 since the first coronavirus death in the United States was reported February 29 in Washington state. (Later in the spring, two earlier deaths in California were posthumously confirmed to be from Covid-19.)

  • 84 days after the first recorded death, the US surpassed 100,000 deaths on May 23, 2020.

  • 121 days later, the US surpassed 200,000 deaths on September 21, 2020.

  • 84 days later, the US surpassed 300,000 deaths on December 14, 2020.

  • 36 days later, on January 19, 2021, the US topped 400,000 deaths.

Those who've died were in focus Tuesday evening as President-elect Joe Biden, one day ahead of his inauguration in the nation's capital, attended a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool to honor Covid-19 victims.

"To heal, we must remember," Biden said. "And it's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as a nation."

Biden's inaugural committee invited cities and towns across the country to join in by illuminating buildings and ringing church bells "in a national moment of unity and remembrance."

All of this comes almost a year after the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the US. And it comes after brutal surges in recent weeks, during which the US saw hundreds of thousands of new cases daily and hospitalization and daily deaths hit all-time highs.

The US has recorded an average of 3,237 Covid-19 deaths a day over the last seven days -- just below the pandemic's peak average of 3,377 reached on January 13. And more than 123,800 Covid-19 patients were reported to be in US hospitals Monday, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

While that hospitalization number is down from a January 6 peak of 132,474, hospitals and health care workers across the country are still under tremendous pressure. In Georgia, one hospital was so full it had to treat patients in hallways and ambulances, an official there told CNN affiliate WSB.

In Texas, the city of Laredo has run out of ICU beds and sent an emergency message to residents urging them to stay home, city spokeswoman Noraida Negron said. Over the weekend, the city's hospitals were diverting patients to facilities in other areas.

"We had no beds whatsoever," Negron said.

There's good reason to keep your guard up

While new cases across the country have been trending down since hitting a peak last week, experts urge Americans not to let their guard down yet.

For one, even with the apparent improvement, the country still averaged about 207,900 new cases daily in the past seven days.

"The virus has established itself in the human population and it's not going anywhere," infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja told CNN. "We're going to see a lot of transmission until we cross the threshold for herd immunity."

But also, the Covid-19 variant first identified in the UK is spreading across the US. Experts have warned that while it does not appear to be more deadly, it is more easily transmittable.

More than 120 cases of the variant have been identified across 20 states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That variant, known as B.1.1.7, has been imported to the US multiple times, and it might have been "established in the US for some 5-6 weeks before (it) was identified as a variant of concern in the UK in mid-December," University of Arizona biologist Michael Worobey wrote late Monday on a website dedicated to sharing genetic information about the virus.

Worobey also said he found evidence B.1.1.7 circulated in California without seeming to drive more transmission -- even though scientists widely agree it can be spread more easily and even though the CDC warned last week that a modeled trajectory of the variant in the US "exhibits rapid growth in early 2021."

That variant and others -- including one first identified in South Africa -- still could "substantially increase the number of cases," Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus adviser to Biden, told CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday.

"I worry desperately in the next six to 12 weeks we're going to see a situation with this pandemic unlike anything we've seen yet to date," said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Other variants include two in Brazil. Another has shown up in California, but it's not known whether it is contributing to renewed spread there.

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