US records a coronavirus death every minute as toll tops 150,000

COVID-19 deaths are rising at their fastest rate since May as California, Texas and Florida all set one-day records.

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) leave with a patient at Hialeah Hospital where the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients are treated
Emergency workers leave with a patient at Hialeah Hospital where COVID-19 patients are treated in Florida [Marco Bello/Reuters]

More than 150,000 people have died from the new coronavirus in the United States, far exceeding the toll in any other pandemic-hit nation, as the states of California, Florida and Texas all set one-day records for COVID-19 deaths.

The US recorded 1,461 deaths on Wednesday, the highest one-day increase since 1,484 on May 27, according to Reuters news agency. This means, one person in the country died about every minute from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.

California had 185 fatalities, Florida reported 217 and Texas had at least 311 deaths with some counties yet to report.

The three states together account for one-quarter of the total US population.

Deaths from COVID-19 are rising at their fastest rate in two months, increasing by 10,000 in the past 11 days, but new infections do not appear to be rising at the same pace.

Amid the spike in deaths, Florida’s Miami-Dade school district delayed the return of students to classrooms when the academic year begins on August 31.

The county has more than 350,000 students, making it the country’s fourth-largest school district.

“In light of viral surge in our community, it’s in the best interest of students and employees to commence the 20-21 school year at a distance,” Miami-Dade County Public Schools said on Twitter.

Economic recovery

With the scheduled reopening of schools days away in some states, President Donald Trump has pushed for students to return to class while teacher unions and local officials have called for them to stay home.

Commercial pilot Rob Koreman of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said he was stunned by the climbing numbers.

“I’m a pilot and hit so many cities, so many people on board, I have to be aware,” Koreman told Reuters. “Basically, none of this should have happened. We needed state coordination, if not flat-out a federal mandate.”

The pace of coronavirus infections has accelerated since late May and the epicentre has moved to South and West from the previous hotspot of New York, which still has by far the highest number of deaths of any US state at more than 32,000.

The surge has hampered efforts to recover from an economic crisis brought on by stay-at-home orders and business closures that have thrown millions of people out of work.

“We have seen some signs in recent weeks that the increase in virus cases and the renewed measures to control it are starting to weigh on economic activity,” the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said at a news conference following the release of the US central bank’s latest policy statement.

Many health experts say the outbreak could be brought under greater control if guidelines to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public were enforced nationwide.

Trump has rejected a federal mask order and while he was initially reluctant to be seen wearing one he has recently come round to the idea.

Mandatory masks

Representative Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas who has at times refused to wear a mask, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, raising concerns that other members of Congress may have been exposed and prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to require face masks in the House of Representatives.

The House sergeant at arms said in a statement later on Wednesday that “all persons entering the House Office Buildings” should be wearing a face cover, with some exceptions including when a person is “eating, drinking or legally smoking”.

Officials in the state of New Jersey, which has the country’s second-highest death toll, again pleaded with young people to avoid large gatherings.

“Coronavirus is more easily transmitted indoors. Crowded indoor house parties are not smart or safe,” Governor Phil Murphy wrote on Twitter.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted in March that the pandemic could kill more than 81,000 people in the US by July.

In its latest statement on July 14, the IHME said its model now projects the US death toll at more than 224,000 by November 1; it said many deaths could be avoided by preventive measures such as masks and physical distancing.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies