Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

But after several dark months, the country is showing some positive signs.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

The United States is having a brutal winter, having recorded half of all of its deaths during the pandemic since Nov. 1. But after several dark months, the country is showing some positive signs.

Fatalities from the virus have been steadily declining for weeks. The country is now averaging about 2,700 deaths per day, down significantly from a few weeks ago, when it was averaging more than 3,300.

The declining death rate follows a drop in hospitalizations and cases — the U.S. recorded less than 100,000 new infections for a third day in a row, a level not seen since early November. Whether this trend will continue is uncertain as more contagious variants of the virus have been expanding rapidly in the U.S. and could reverse these gains.

The death toll remains far above the levels of early November, before the winter surge, when the country reported an average of roughly 825 deaths per day. Deaths are also continuing to rise in some states, including Kansas, Iowa and South Carolina.

Though deaths in California are slowing, yesterday it became the state with the highest total death toll, surpassing New York.

When adjusted for its population, California actually has a lower death rate than more than 31 states, but that’s little consolation for the families of the nearly 45,000 people killed there. Nor does it cushion the pain for the health workers, nursing home staff members, and chaplains who have experienced so much death in such a short amount of time.

Kristin Michealsen, a hospital chaplain in Los Angeles, has helped many patients confront their final moments. In January, an Associated Press photographer snapped a photo of Ms. Michealsen standing at a man’s bedside, holding his hand.


Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The man’s relatives were not allowed into the hospital ward, so they gathered at their home just minutes from the hospital. The patient’s heart had just stopped. Ms. Michealsen, an ordained minister, accompanied the man to the edge of his life. It was the third time that day she watched a patient die. Often, she is the only other person in the room when death comes. Sometimes, a nurse holds the other hand of the dying patient.

“When we come into this world, we are immediately surrounded by people — we have human touch,” Ms. Michealsen said last week from the Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I just think that when we leave this world, we should have the same.”

The vaccination campaign in the European Union has been painfully slow and deeply troubled — and one of the bloc’s top officials admitted as much today.

The E.U. was “not where we want to be” in handling the pandemic, said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. She went on to say that the E.U. was late to authorize vaccines, too optimistic about vaccine production forecasts, and too confident that the doses would be delivered on time.

From the beginning, the E.U. has been more cautious and price-conscious than either Britain or the United States, which have spared no expense on vaccines and surged ahead in inoculations. Around 4 percent of E.U. nationals have been vaccinated so far, according to Ms. Von der Leyen, in stark contrast to nearly 20 percent in Britain and 13 percent in the United States.

The slow pace is causing grumbling in places like Germany, where the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was created, and in France, which is experiencing the exasperating trifecta of stubbornly high infection rates, virus restrictions and a slow vaccine rollout.

Still, Ms. Von der Leyen and others have defended the E.U.’s approach, which has given smaller countries with less negotiating power access to early shots — not just rich countries like Germany and France.

“I cannot even imagine what would have happened if just a handful of big players — big member states — had rushed to it and everybody else would have been left empty-handed,” she said, adding that it would have been “the end of our community.”

When shelter in place started, I immediately started to grow my hair to donate for cancer wigs. Every six weeks, I send my beautician the amount of money I would pay her if she had cut my hair. She makes the same amount of money from me, we are both safe, and when this is over, a cancer patient will have a free wig. Take THAT, Covid!

— Susan Reichardt, Santa Rosa, Calif.

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Jonathan Wolfe