Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

The U.S. reaches 600,000 deaths.

Jonathan Wolfe


Daily reported deaths in the U.S.
Credit…The New York Times

The United States is once again observing a somber milestone: More than 600,000 Americans are known to have died from Covid-19, according to data compiled by The Times.

It’s a staggering number — up to six times the death toll that Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted in March 2020 — and comes as the country has made huge advances against the virus with its aggressive vaccination campaign.

Mercifully, the pace of deaths in the U.S. has slowed, which wasn’t the case for most of the pandemic. The country logged its first 100,000 deaths in May 2020, and the pace kept accelerating. It took close to four months for the nation to log another 100,000 deaths, about three months for the next, and just five weeks for the next. The most recent 100,000 deaths came more slowly, over about four months, thanks, experts say, to the protection offered by the vaccines.

As the virus fades in the U.S., there have been growing calls for an investigative commission to examine the pandemic and the devastating loss of life in the country. Despite the publication of thousands of news articles and even books examining what went wrong, major unanswered questions remain.

Bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to create a bipartisan panel, and so far, the discussion has not produced partisan discord — at least, not yet. However, in Washington, a commission with subpoena power could be a hard sell to Republicans wary that such a panel would become an instrument to investigate former President Donald Trump. Given the current climate, a nonpartisan effort would have more success, said Philip Zelikow, a leader of the Sept. 11 commission.

President Biden, speaking at a news conference in Brussels this week, expressed condolences to everyone who mourned during the pandemic.

“I know that black hole that seems to consume you, that fills up your chest when you lose someone that’s close to you, that you adored,” Biden said. He added: “Please get vaccinated as soon as possible. We’ve had enough pain.”

Since mid-April, the U.S. pace of inoculations has dropped sharply. The virus continues to kill hundreds of Americans a day, nearly all of them unvaccinated. The virus is still raging in other countries, including India and parts of South America. No country will be fully able to turn the page on the pandemic, experts say, until there is mass vaccination around the world.

As President Biden and President Vladimir Putin of Russia met today, the pandemic loomed in the background.

Hours before the start of the meeting in Geneva, the city of Moscow announced that it would mandate coronavirus vaccinations for workers in service and other industries as Russia is gripped by a vicious new wave of Covid-19. Even so, Russian officials insist that the country has handled the coronavirus crisis better than the West, saying that there have been no large-scale lockdowns since last summer.

For insight into the situation in Russia, I turned to Andrew Kramer, who covers the country for The Times.

How is the vaccine rollout going there?

Terribly. And remember, Russia claimed to be the first country in the world to approve the use of a coronavirus vaccine, in August of last year, before testing had been completed.

There are two explanations for the slow rollout. The first is shortage of supply. Making the vaccine is very finicky. Fermenting the batches of vaccine is difficult, and there have been setbacks. So while the United States was producing tens of millions of doses, the Russian ramp-up went very slowly. The other part of the equation is that there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy. So even when there is a vaccine available, there’s distrust in the government and lack of trust that the vaccine is safe — even though it has been shown in trials to be safe and effective.

The country has registered 125,000 deaths from the virus, but experts think that’s an undercount. Why?

In Russia, the criteria for qualifying a death from coronavirus is quite strict. If somebody has the virus and dies, it may not be counted as a coronavirus death if another cause is considered more significant. But if we look at just the excess deaths — and my colleague Anton did a story on this — Russia had a very high excess death rate in 2020. Per capita, the highest in the world.

And it was likely a political decision not to be alarmist. The government has conveyed a message that they’re in charge, they’re in control of the pandemic, and that the pandemic is less severe in Russia than elsewhere. And also that the restrictions imposed were less onerous.

What do Russians think about the Covid situation and the vaccine rollout?

Russians have been through a lot in the past 30 years or so. Financial crises, crime waves, poverty, ups and downs politically. Russians are famous for their fatalism — seen in their literature, seen in their approach to safety, like driving and travel — and it is also evident during the pandemic. It is the idea that you should live fully for today, and not be too worried about the crops failing, the Mongols invading, or becoming sick in the future. That is not the way to live properly.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

  • Regeneron’s antibody drug was found to cut deaths in some hospitalized patients.

My partner and I had to cancel a special overseas vacation just as the pandemic hit, and then I lost him midsummer. Because he didn’t die of Covid, I feel isolated from those mourning loved ones who did, and because of Covid I have spent almost a full year grieving that loss in complete isolation. As the rest of the nation celebrates, I dread one final holiday — also a milestone birthday — to be endured, but this time not entirely alone.

— Meg, Chicago

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

Sign up here to get the briefing by email.

Email your thoughts to

Read More

Jonathan Wolfe