The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Coronavirus updates U.S. surpasses 400,000 deaths as Biden invites the country to mourn together

A health worker prepares a syringe with the Moderna coronavirus vaccine Tuesday in France. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)
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Covid-19 has now killed more than 400,000 Americans. The country reached that devastating milestone Tuesday, the eve of the first anniversary of the first confirmed U.S. case and the final full day of Donald Trump’s presidency, which historians say will be defined by his bungling of the public health crisis.

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“To heal, we must remember,” President-elect Joe Biden said in a Tuesday evening vigil for coronavirus victims at the Lincoln Memorial. “And it’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation. That’s why we’re here today.”

The somber event offered a striking contrast to Trump’s near-constant downplaying of the virus, and served as the new administration’s signal that it would take the dangerous pandemic seriously.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Most Americans think the pandemic is out of control in the United States, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Attitudes about the virus and vaccines differ across party lines.
  • Trump awarded presidential commendations on Tuesday to officials involved in Operation Warp Speed, which is overseeing vaccine distribution. Recipients included Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
  • Several national public health officials received their second doses of the coronavirus vaccine, including National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, Azar and Fauci, Collins said Tuesday.
  • California public health officials have paused the administration of about 330,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine as they investigate reports of a “higher-than-usual number” of severe allergic reactions to the drug.
  • A Florida data scientist who said she was fired by the state for her conflicting data about the coronavirus pandemic turned herself in on accusations of “illegally” accessing the health department platform and sending a message to about 1,750 people.
  • China is hurrying to build a coronavirus quarantine center with a 4,000-person capacity in the city of Shijiazhuang, the latest virus hot spot in the county.
  • World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the world is nearing a “catastrophic moral failure” as wealthy countries control vaccine supplies that could leave poorer nations to struggle more with curtailing the virus’s spread.

At the Lincoln Memorial vigil, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris invited the nation to mourn together, encouraging Americans to place candles in their windows and asking local leaders to illuminate city buildings and ring church bells.

“For many months, we have grieved by ourselves,” Harris said. “Tonight we grieve and begin healing together.”

People are dying at a pace unmatched by any other stretch of this pandemic — including the darkest days of spring, when mobile morgues lined the streets of New York City. It took just over a month for the U.S. death toll to climb from 300,000 to 400,000, twice as fast as it rose from 200,000 to 300,000, according to data gathered and analyzed by The Washington Post.

The United States has reported more than 24 million total cases. The number of people felled by the virus is now greater than the populations of New Orleans and Tampa. In the coming days, the toll will probably surpass the number of U.S. casualties in World War II. The fatality figures are so staggering that many Americans have said they feel numb as they try to reckon with one of the biggest mass casualty events in the country’s history.

And yet, action has never been more critical.

States have only distributed half of the 31 million coronavirus vaccine doses they have received, according to The Post’s tracking, and Americans are wondering when they will be able to get their shots.

As they wait, the virus continues its spread and hospitals try to make space for new covid-19 patients.

In Los Angeles County, which has emerged as a hot spot, leaders welcomed Biden’s inauguration and said they anticipate a greater level of cooperation with local governments from his administration.

“We expect our situation to improve greatly,” Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis said Tuesday. “I’m hoping now that we’ll have that coordination that was lacking in terms of the federal government.”

In New York, the early epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, state officials say they have administered first doses to more than 1 million people, nearly half of them in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the city expects to run out of its vaccine supply on Thursday and won’t get more doses until next week.

“We will have literally nothing left to give as of Friday,” de Blasio said at a news conference, where he called on the federal government to send the city more vaccine.

“This is crazy,” he said. “This is not the way it should be. We have the ability to vaccinate a huge number of people. We need the vaccine to go with it."

De Blasio, who competed with Biden for the Democratic nomination, said he hoped the incoming administration would “fix a lot of this.”

New Yorkers, however, are bracing for still more tough times, according to a new poll from Siena College Research Institute. More than half of polled New York state voters — 55 percent — said the worst of the pandemic is still to come, even though a similar number said the Biden administration bodes well for the state.

Meanwhile, European nations are also wrestling with containment of the virus and its mutations. The European Commission urged its member countries to vaccinate at least 70 percent of their adult population by June, Agence France-Presse reported.

E.U. health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said “the worldwide shortage of production capacity” has slowed the rollout of vaccinations. She also said there are discussions about standard vaccine certificates that would be recognized among member nations, according to Agence France-Presse.

German leaders have extended and tightened restrictions amid concerns over a new virus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa and another new variant recently found in 35 patients at a hospital in a Bavarian ski town, CNBC reported.

Britain reported more than 1,600 people dead Tuesday, a new single-day death record that brings the country’s overall count above 90,000. More than 4.2 million people there have received the first dose of a vaccine.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.