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U.S. closing in on grim milestone: 200,000 virus deaths

The United States is on the verge of

The United States is on the verge of reaching 200,000 coronavirus deaths. Credit: Bloomberg / Micah Green

White House health officials on Sunday defended the Trump Administration’s coronavirus response as the United States approached 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and testing czar Adm. Brett Giroir touted that new cases, ICU admittance and deaths per day have declined since a summer peak, which Azar called "incredible progress."

"I mourn the death of any American from this absolutely unprecedented pandemic," Azar told NBC’s Meet The Press. But "... if the president had not taken the aggressive actions that we took, we could have lost as many as 2 million Americans."

Azar said those actions included closing borders, calling on people to practice "individual responsibility" and making the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment more accessible.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the White House's response, saying she hopes "Republicans will finally, finally address the coronavirus crisis, finally subscribe to a plan to crush the virus, to listen to scientists."

"But the fact is, this administration has been a total failure in protecting the health and well-being of the American people, and it has had an impact on our economy. The lives, the livelihood and the life of our democracy are threatened by this administration," Pelosi said on ABC's "This Week."

In March, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans could die from coronavirus. On Sunday, the United States was poised to surpass that estimate as the death toll hit 199,352 people early in the day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States has had the most COVID-19 deaths in the world. Brazil follows with more than 136,000 deaths, according to Hopkins data. India, which has a population of more than 1 billion, is in third with 86,000 deaths, less than half the U.S. figure.

The United States hit 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in May. It has had more than 6.76 million confirmed cases since January.

About 43,000 new cases a day are added in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University. That’s down from a peak of about 67,000 in July, though still higher than the average number of new daily cases in March, April, May and June, data show. When cases peaked in New York in April, the country had about 31,000 new cases a day on average.

Health officials attributed the decline in cases from July to people wearing masks, practicing social distancing, avoiding crowded indoor spaces and washing their hands.

"We know so much more than we did early on," Giroir said on CNN’s "State of the Union."

When asked about President Donald Trump not following those guidelines at his campaign rallies, Giroir deflected, saying "biology is independent of politics" and emphasized the importance of following such guidelines.

Giroir said a vaccine may not be widely available — meaning hundreds of millions of doses — until mid-2021, although "a few million" doses could be available in November or December if evidence shows a vaccine is safe and effective.

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