US now leads world in COVID-19 cases as report warns it could face 80,000 deaths in four months

pharmafile | March 27, 2020 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development  

The US now leads the world in total number of COVID-19 cases with more than 85,500 positives, ahead of China’s approximately 81,800 and Italy’s 80,600 cases.

President Trump has been accused of downplaying the impact of COVID-19 in the past weeks and failing to put in place adequate measures to restrict its spread and protect public health. A large part of that response has been characterised by a lack of testing, with hold-ups at production facilities and faulty testing kits blamed.

But the President has also been accused of reluctance to test in part because more testing means a higher number of cases, and a high number of cases could bring a second presidential term into question come November.

Dan Diamond, a health reporter for Politico reporting on the US Government’s response to the crisis, made the allegation to National Public Radio: “The president had made clear – the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential re-election this fall.”

BBC reported on 16 March that the US had tested 38,600 out of a population of 327 million; this compares to 44,100 people in the UK – a country with a population of 66 million – and 240,000 in South Korea, which has a population of 51 million. South Korea is estimated to have been testing its citizens 700 times more per capita than the US at this time.

The US has ramped up its response in the following weeks. Vice President Mike Pence announce that all 50 states now had access to testing kits, and more than 552,000 tests had been carried out in the country. The FDA has been accelerating the approval of testing kits, including a 30-minute test from Mesa Biotech this week.

Trump himself said that these ramped-up efforts meant that “We’ve done more tests in eight days than South Korea has done in eight weeks.” This claim has been widely disputed; the COVID tracking project claims, based on best available data, that the US has conducted 304,605 tests in the eight-day period between 16 and 24 March. This compares to 348,395 tests conducted in South Korea between the first recorded case on 28 January and 24 March. While the gap has certainly narrowed as the US increases its efforts, it is estimated that South Korea is currently testing around six times more per capita.  

The US has suffered around 1,300 fatalities as a result of the virus, behind the 3,291 and 8,215 deaths seen in China and Italy, respectively.

Despite the ongoing crisis, President Trump has expressed his aim to reopen the country and get much of its workforce back to work, as unemployment rates rocketed to a record high.

“[The American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly,” he said in a press briefing.

The ambition has been met with a strong backlash, particularly in light of damning data revealed in a report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, which warns that the US could be facing 80,000 deaths in four months, with as many as 2,300 deaths a day by April. 

Matt Fellows

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