A quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The milestone reached on Wednesday follows a stunning surge in cases this fall, with the country repeatedly shattering records for daily new case numbers and several states reporting record high hospitalization rates.
President Donald Trump’s unwavering insistence that the coronavirus is on its way out couldn’t be further from the truth. Less than two weeks after Trump lost his bid for a second term to President-elect Joe Biden, the U.S. surpassed 11 million cases ― about a fifth of all infections worldwide.
“We’re still facing a very dark winter,” President-elect Biden warned Americans last week, predicting that the death toll will climb as people congregate indoors more and Trump finishes his final weeks in office while downplaying the severity of the disease, dismissing the need for masks and other basic safety measures, refusing to issue national guidelines, insisting that states reopen their economies, and blaming testing for the high rate of cases.
The 250,000 dead-and-counting are the Trump administration’s legacy: America’s grim mortality statistics are the direct result of political decisions by the country’s leaders. Every non-political explanation has steadily fallen away as other countries proved this disease could be managed.
Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, among the most densely populated places in the world, have had vanishingly small outbreaks and are now returning to their pre-coronavirus activity. Within the United States, the severe initial outbreak in New York City seemed to indicate that density was to blame, but the country’s second densest city, San Francisco, had a much smaller outbreak. Caseloads have spiked in states that are heavily suburbanized and rural, including Idaho, North Dakota and Arkansas.
And while America’s status as a transportation hub did indeed result in the early arrival of the virus, other countries even closer to the genesis of the outbreak in China have fared far better. Mongolia, which shares a border with China, hadn’t reported a single COVID-19 death by November. Vietnam, China’s neighbor to the south, had recorded just over 30 fatalities. Germany, Australia and Japan also host large numbers of international travelers, and all have had far less severe outbreaks than the United States.
Since the first confirmed case in late January, Trump has alternated between pretending the virus doesn’t exist, downplaying its significance and blaming others for its effects. While the country was under quarantine — an act of collective self-sacrifice unparalleled in post-World War II history — Trump did next to nothing to develop testing and contact tracing infrastructure.
The incoming Biden administration has its work cut out. Trump has spent most of his final year in office discrediting public health experts, refusing to wear a mask and holding large super-spreader events at the White House. He led by example, and America followed. Biden has vowed to deploy a national mask mandate, but how effective will that be when Trump has politicized safety measures and convinced so many Americans ― including state and local leaders ― that masks aren’t important?
Hope for recovery in the U.S. now almost entirely hinges on the development and deployment of a coronavirus vaccine. There’s a lot of optimism around trials showing that Pfizer’s vaccine is 90% effective, and public health experts say that some people could receive it by the end of the year.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.