US coronavirus death toll set to reach 200,000 by Labor Day, CDC forecast says

By Oliver Milman

The US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is set to reach 200,000 by Labor Day as children across the country prepare to return to school, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecast.

The rate of new deaths could rise in California and Colorado over the coming four weeks and decline in Arizona, the CDC said. More than 160,000 people have died from Covid-19 in America, although scientists have pointed out the number of excess deaths so far this year exceeds even this toll.

“Covid-19 deaths could be being undercounted or the pandemic could also be causing increases in other types of death. It’s probably some of both,” said Ronald Fricker, a professor of statistics at Virginia Tech. “Regardless of the reason, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in substantially more deaths than would have otherwise occurred, and it is not over yet.”

The grim projection comes as states outside the US north-east continue to struggle to dampen a surge in new infections, with California on Thursday becoming the first state to register 600,000 Covid cases.

A summer leap in new infections prompted California to shut down bars and indoor dining for a second time, although the governor, Gavin Newsom, said this week the state is “turning the corner on this pandemic”, citing a drop in new hospitalizations.

The ongoing crisis, marred by a bungled governmental response to contain the virus and the spread of misinformation over mask-wearing and touted miracle cures to stem the outbreak, could end up being as deadly or worse than the 1918 flu pandemic, researchers have warned.

When improvements in hygiene and modern medicine are factored in, the increase in deaths in the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic was “substantially greater” than during the peak of the 1918 event, a study has found.

Despite the mounting death toll, Donald Trump’s administration is continuing to push for schools to reopen as normal. Schools in several states have already returned, often with adverse consequences – more than 2,000 students and teachers across five states have been quarantined following several hundred positive Covid-19 cases.

In just one school district in Georgia, 1,100 students had to be isolated at home due to an outbreak of the virus. Trump has said the virus’s risk to children is “very, very low” although experts have warned this should not be comforting to parents.

“It’s not fair to say that this virus is completely benign in children,” Sean O’Leary, vice-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, told CNN. “We’ve had 90 deaths in children in the US already, in just a few months.”

In Arizona, recently a hotspot for infections, some teachers have resigned in protest at the decision to resume in-person learning. But Doug Ducey, the state’s governor, has said that mask wearing and the avoidance of crowds has helped improve the situation.

“Overall, the hard work and sacrifices are paying off,” he said. “So I want to thank Arizonans for their efforts, and the message is stay the course, don’t let up, stay vigilant.”

Ducey said he was disappointed that football games were not resuming in the state, in common with the rest of the country, although Thursday night saw a high school game in Utah. The Trump administration has called for a return of school and college sports, arguing that young athletes are at lesser risk than older people, despite the risk they could spread the virus to others.

Many sporting bodies continue to be cautious, however, with the NCAA basketball championships confirming on Thursday that the competition will not take place in the autumn due to a lack of school participation. “We can’t [hold championships] in any Division I NCAA championship sport now, which is everything other than FBS football that goes on in the fall,” said the NCAA president, Mark Emmert. “Sadly, tragically, that’s going to be the case this fall, full stop.”

Meanwhile, efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine are pushing forward, with Reuters reporting that US government scientists are working to manufacture a strain of the virus to intentionally infect healthy volunteers who have been vaccinated.

The work is preliminary and such so-called challenge trials would not replace large-scale, phase three trials such as those now under way in the United States testing experimental Covid-19 vaccines from Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc, according to a statement emailed to Reuters by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Niaid), part of the National Institutes of Health.

US officials organizing the fight against the pandemic have been under pressure from advocacy groups such as 1 Day Sooner and others that see challenge trials as a way to speed up tests of a Covid-19 vaccine. Most vaccine trials rely on inadvertent infection, which can take time to occur. Some drugmakers, including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have said they would consider human challenge trials to test Covid-19 vaccines if needed.