State of the U.S.: 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s the third week of January, 2021, and here in the U.S. we’re 10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s take stock of where we’re at.

Globally, about one-fourth of all COVID-19 cases have been in the U.S. More than 24.5 million people have had COVID-19 here, and more than 408,000 people have died. Those numbers are currently rising dramatically and by the time you read this, they’ll be even higher. See up-to-date coronavirus statistics from Johns Hopkins University.

Coronavirus counts are the highest they’ve been in the U.S. since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. The numbers of both pandemic cases and deaths due to the virus are surging almost everywhere in the country.

The CDC says we may be significantly undercounting coronavirus-related deaths, too. Last year, nearly 300,000 more people died in the U.S. from January to October than in previous years, and the CDC says it’s unclear to what extent they represent “misclassified COVID-19 deaths or deaths indirectly related to the pandemic” (because of disruptions in health care access or utilization; for example, someone with heart attack symptoms who delays seeking emergency care because they are worried about exposure to disease ).

Scientists also say a new variant of coronavirus, called B.1.1.7 and first found in England, has now been found in at least nine U.S. states. While they say it doesn’t seem deadlier, they think it’s up to 70% more transmissible.

How have we gotten to this point?

Lack of coordinated oversight

Researching the federal government’s coronavirus response, the Brookings Institution found “insufficient preparation and capacity, … coordination, slowness, and regulatory failures, among many other factors.” The report, dated March 31, 2020, cited “massive failures of judgment and inaction” in January, February, and March 2020.

Without coordinated federal oversight in such areas as consistent funding, supplies, messaging, and other assistance, governors, mayors, and local health departments had to piece together guidelines about procedures such as mask mandates and how to administer the funding they did receive from state and federal governments. Without standardisation, results were wildly uneven.