The Latest: How the pandemic compares to other deadly events in U.S. history

How the pandemic compares to other deadly events in U.S. history Nearly 250,000 people in…

How the pandemic compares to other deadly events in U.S. history

Nearly 250,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since February, and many public health officials warn the pandemic is just entering its deadliest phase. Yet, as the country confronts this horrifying death toll, there is little understanding of what a loss of this size represents.

Here is some historical perspective about losing a quarter of a million people, looking at major events in our past that have cost American lives.

More than 58,000 Americans were killed during the decade-plus of involvement in the Vietnam War. So the pandemic’s fatalities represent four Vietnam Wars since February.

During the Korean War, nearly 37,000 Americans were lost – COVID-19 has claimed nearly seven times more.

During World War II, the country mourned 405,000 members of the “Greatest Generation.” The pandemic has taken nearly two-thirds as many people, a lot of them old enough to remember the fight against the Nazis and the Japanese.

World War II veterans gathered to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day at the World War II Memorial in Washington in 2016. Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post

And World War I? 116,000 U.S. dead in two years of fighting. The pandemic has more than doubled that number in a fraction of the time.

What about our deadliest conflict, the Civil War? Death toll estimates range from 600,000 to 850,000. Even at the high end of that range, the pandemic has permanently taken nearly 30% as many family members from Thanksgiving tables.

On Sept. 11, 2001, almost 3,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa.

The deadliest day of the pandemic so far – April 14 – nearly equaled that, at 2,967 deaths. On Wednesday, as the virus surged across the country, the daily death toll had risen again to 1,894. Public health officials fear that by the end of this month, the U.S. could lose more people per day from the pandemic than the 2,403 Americans killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

And how does this pandemic compare to others in U.S. history?

A Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps records on four of them. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic killed 12,469 Americans. The 1968 Influenza A pandemic killed about 100,000 people. And the 1957-1958 Influenza A pandemic took 116,000 U.S. lives.

The deadliest event in U.S. history was the 1918 flu pandemic, which is estimated to have killed 675,000 Americans.

One of the more conservative disease models currently projects the United States could reach 438,000 deaths, more than during World War II, by March 1, 2021.

Evangelical doctors urge churches not to defy public health restrictions, hold in-person services

A group representing evangelical Christian doctors is pleading with churches to stop holding in-person services, calling it “tragic to see Christians become even more reviled because we appear to care only about our individual freedoms and don’t care that we may be contributing to others getting this illness because of our selfishness.”

Since the start of the pandemic, some churches have made a point of defying public health restrictions that ban large gatherings, or attempting to overturn them in court. But voluntarily choosing to hold services online in the interest of protecting community members “allows us to make a statement that is not overshadowed by a government restriction,” leaders of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations write.


A Bethel Church leader criticized masks while an outbreak of COVID-19 at its affiliated college resulted in over 270 cases in March. Mike Chapman/The Record Searchlight via Associated Press

Citing the need to “slow the rising tide” of coronavirus infections, the association argues that choosing to hold services online is not a decision made from fear, but instead is about “loving one another and minimizing risk to the vulnerable around us.” In an appeal published Thursday, the group said that it was “saddened” that many church leaders had avoided its recommendations to avoid large gatherings, and that some worshipers had contracted the coronavirus as a result.

“One of us is personally aware of several recent weddings when people did not mask or engage in social distancing which resulted in the entire wedding party and family being infected with SARS-CoV-2,” the letter says.

Earlier this year, the CMDA called on churches to obey government health orders, pointing to a Bible passage that states that “whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.” The new appeal, which was first reported by NPR, pushes back against the notion that banning in-person gatherings is an attack on religious rights. No one is being prevented from reading the Bible, singing hymns and connecting with other congregants from home, the group’s leaders note.

213 cases, 12 deaths stem from a church convocation, NC health official say

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Health officials said Thursday that three more people have died of coronavirus complications linked to a series of convocation events at a North Carolina church last month, raising the death toll to 12.

Large crowds attended events at the United House of Prayer for All People in October in west Charlotte.

In that time, public health contact tracers and Mecklenburg County officials have connected 213 COVID-19 cases to the events, which includes attendees and people who came in close contact with participants, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Of the deaths, 10 were from Mecklenburg County and two were from Gaston County, officials said in a statement.

Pfizer to file Friday for regulatory clearance of their coronavirus vaccine

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced they plan to file Friday for emergency authorization of their coronavirus vaccine, a landmark moment and a signal that a powerful tool to help control the pandemic could begin to be available by mid- to late December.

The filing is a significant step in the effort to develop a vaccine and will move the race to its next, deliberative phase – a weeks-long process in which career scientists at the Food and Drug Administration scrutinize the data and determine if the vaccine is safe and effective.

Only after the agency has given the green light will a first, limited group of high-risk people be able to access the shots. Government officials anticipate having enough vaccine to inoculate about 20 million people in the U.S. in December, between Pfizer’s vaccine and a second shot likely to be considered for emergency authorization soon, from biotechnology company Moderna. The United States will receive about half of the 50 million doses Pfizer is aiming to produce by the end of the year.

There will probably be enough vaccine for 25 million to 30 million people a month in early 2021, according to Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government initiative to speed up vaccine development.

Glimpses of the Pfizer data through news releases have so far exceeded expectations: The two-dose vaccine regimen was 95% effective at preventing disease in clinical trials and had no major safety problems, according to the company. It was 94%effective in people over 65, a group of critical concern because older people are more likely to develop life-threatening illness after contracting the virus. The companies are also submitting two months of follow-up data on 38,000 people, far more than the minimum of half the participants in their 44,000-person trial. They will also present safety data on 100 children between 12 and 15 years old, a group they only recently began to include in their trial.

Once Pfizer and BioNTech file their application, those broad findings will be scrutinized by regulators – including at a full-day advisory committee meeting in which external scientists will meet to make recommendations to the agency on whether it should clear the vaccine for broader use.

The hope that many scientists and physicians feel about unprecedented scientific success in developing a remarkably effective vaccine has been tempered by a grim reality. No vaccine will arrive in time to alter the current surge of virus, as hospitals are overwhelmed, testing capacity is stretched and intensive care units fill with sick people – right before holidays that may seed even more outbreaks.

Nevada, Oregon report record high new virus cases

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada health officials reported a record-high 2,416 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and six additional deaths as the virus continues to surge throughout the state.

The latest figures increased the state’s totals to 127,875 cases and 1,953 known deaths since the pandemic began. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

The Nevada Hospital Association reported 1,288 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized. Both the number of reported daily cases and total hospitalizations are the highest since the start of the pandemic in Nevada.

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Health Authority reported three grim COVID-19 record high’s Thursday, the state’s largest daily number of confirmed cases, most daily deaths and people hospitalized for the virus.

There were 1,225 new confirmed COVID-19 cases increasing the state total to 60,873. There were 20 new deaths reported, surpassing the 800 death toll since the start of the pandemic.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oregon is 414, the highest number since the pandemic began and a 142% increase since the beginning of November, according to state health data released Thursday.

California imposes overnight curfew

SACRAMENTO — California is imposing an overnight curfew on most residents as the most populous state tries to head off a surge in coronavirus cases it fears could tax the state’s health care system, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday.

What officials are calling a limited stay-at-home order requires nonessential residents to stay home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Saturday.

It affects counties with the most severe restrictions, 41 of the state’s 58 counties that are in the “purple” tier under California’s color-coded system for reopening the economy. That covers 94% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.

The move comes only days after the state imposed restrictions limiting business operations in those 41 counties, which have the most significant increases in virus cases.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a statement.

The order will last one month, until Dec. 21, but could be extended if infection rates and disease trends don’t improve.

El Paso health care workers echo CDC request not to gather for Thanksgiving

EL PASO, Texas — Health care workers in the border city of El Paso, Texas, where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed hospitals, are joining the nation’s top public health officials in urging people not to gather for Thanksgiving.

Surgical technologist Michelle Harvey said Thursday that personal protective equipment is in high demand at the hospital where she works. She and colleagues are frustrated that they often receive only one N95 respirator for 10- to 12-hour shifts and often have to reuse shoe covers.

There is a time-consuming process to request new equipment from locked storage units, Harvey said, and sometimes “the patient just doesn’t have enough time to wait for you to get new stuff.”

Harvey said she usually has 10 to 15 people in her home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but that this year she won’t.

“If you don’t take these precautions, this might be the last time,” said Harvey, 49. “This might be your last holiday with them.”

Hawaii tightens testing requirement for visitors

HONOLULU — Anyone flying to Hawaii will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test result prior to their departure for the state, with the new rule going into effect two days before Thanksgiving, Gov. David Ige announced Thursday.

Until now, passengers flying to the islands using a pre-travel testing program were permitted to arrive and then upload their negative test results to a state database, allowing them to skip two weeks of quarantine.

However, some travelers who arrived in Hawaii without their test results wound up later testing positive. That, in part, prompted the rule change, Ige said at a news conference,

The new program goes into effect Tuesday, just ahead of the holiday.

To bypass the 14-day quarantine, travelers must have the correct type of COVID-19 negative test results from one of the state’s trusted testing partners, Ige said.

“If test results are not available before boarding the final leg of their trip, the traveler must quarantine for 14 days or the length of the stay, whichever runs shorter,” he said.

Those who arrive without having their negative test results before departure will not be able to skip quarantine, even if their negative results become available shortly after they arrive.

Passenger have always had the option to not get tested at all and quarantine in their hotel rooms or homes upon arrival. Travelers will continue to have that option.

South Korea asks public to avoid social gatherings as cases climb once again

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s prime minister has urged the public to avoid social gatherings and stay at home as much as possible as the country registered more than 300 new virus cases for a third consecutive day.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Friday the 363 cases reported in the past 24 hours took the country’s total to 30,017 with 501 deaths since the pandemic began.

South Korea’s caseload has been on a steady rise after it relaxed its physical distancing rules last month.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Friday asked people to minimize year-end parties and gatherings and called on businesses to let their employees work from home.

Local authorities on Thursday toughened distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area, the southern city of Gwangju and some parts in the eastern Gangwon province.


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