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U.S. Surpasses 250,000 COVID-19 Deaths


COVID-19 has now killed more than a quarter million people in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. That means 1 in about every 1,300 people in the U.S. has died of the disease. Put a little differently, it is equivalent to wiping out the entire population of Reno, Nev., or Buffalo, N.Y., or Madison, Wis. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein is here with more.

Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: At the end of March, Dr. Anthony Fauci forecast that maybe a hundred to 200,000 people in the U.S. could die of COVID-19. And here we are today with 250,000 deaths, and the pandemic is far from over. Did experts underestimate this disease and our ability to control it?

STEIN: Yeah, you know, Ari, it's like our - the worst fears and projections about this pandemic just keep coming true, you know? It was in May when the pandemic claimed the first hundred thousand lives. And public health experts back then were worrying that could double by the fall, and it did. And the U.S. hit 200,000 deaths in September. And now here we are just two months later at 250,000 deaths. I talked about this today with Dr. Harvey Fineberg. He leads a panel of experts tracking the pandemic at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (ph).

HARVEY FINEBERG: Every number is a digit with a tear attached to it. Every single case is someone's loved one. So you multiply those numbers of fatalities by the numbers affected. And that means that millions of us are suffering from the loss that has been imposed by COVID.

STEIN: And you know, Ari, that 250,000 is widely believed to significantly underestimate the true death toll from the pandemic in the country.

SHAPIRO: And looking ahead, we're still months away from a vaccine being widely available to all Americans. So what are forecasters telling you about how much worse this could get before it's over?

STEIN: It, you know, doesn't look good. At least 36 states have reported record numbers of new infections in the past week alone. At least a dozen have reported record numbers of deaths. More than 76,000 people are so sick from COVID right now that they're in the hospital, and that's an all-time high. And the number of new deaths being reported each week seems to increase. More than 1,500 deaths were reported just yesterday. You know, think about that. That's like having a 9/11 terrorist attack every couple of days. And so the experts are predicting tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands more could die in the coming months.

SHAPIRO: Unless we do what? I mean, what are experts saying we have to do to avoid that?

STEIN: Yeah. So, you know, it doesn't mean that all hope is lost. Public health experts have learned a lot about what to do. And, you know, we've heard it before - wearing masks, staying away from other people as much as possible, especially when we're indoors. And, you know, governors in many states are starting to take stronger action. But the most important thing is how individuals behave. If they do the right things, a lot more deaths could be avoided.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein.

Thanks, Rob.

STEIN: Sure thing, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.