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U.S. closing in on 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

The United States is closing in fast on a number that was unthinkable when the first deaths from the coronavirus were reported back in February — the 200,000th pandemic fatality, NBC News figures showed Tuesday.

There were 190,327 reported deaths out of more than 6.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., according to the latest numbers.

Over the past seven days, one new COVID-19 death was being recorded every 106 seconds, according to an NBC News analysis.

The silver lining? The pace at which the new coronavirus deaths were accumulating was somewhat slower than it was after the first week in August, when one person died of the coronavirus every 80 seconds over a seven-day period.

And the states recording the largest increases in death rates over the last four weeks were not the biggest or most populous ones.

West Virginia’s death rate spiked by 141 percent, bringing it to 247 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the figures show.

Wyoming (100 percent), Alaska (78 percent), Arkansas (52 percent), North Dakota (52 percent), Kentucky (51 percent) and Georgia (51 percent) have also reported big percentage spikes in COVID-19 deaths.

The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, two territories with smaller death totals, also had large increases in the coronavirus death rate. Deaths in the Virgin Islands rose by 167 percent over the last four weeks, while deaths in Puerto Rico rose by 77 percent.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Virgin Islands have reported a total 17 deaths and Puerto Rico has recorded 477 deaths.

New York continued to be the state with the most deaths, with 33,842, but most occurred in March and April, when the Northeast was the nation’s hot spot and when scientists and health officials were still trying to come up with a way to control the spreading crisis.

Most of the deaths since then have been reported in Southern and Sun Belt states, such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, that began reopening in May at the urging of President Donald Trump just as the pandemic was starting to crest in those regions.

While still high, the numbers of new cases and deaths in Florida and Arizona have been declining recently, according to figures compiled by NBC News and other news organizations.

California, which took aggressive action early on to deal with the crisis and then suffered a big spike when it reopened, still leads the nation, with 742,074 cases. In recent weeks, however, the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations have also been declining there.

“We’ve done a great job with COVID,” Trump said Tuesday on the tarmac before boarding an Air Force One flight to Florida and North Carolina. “We’ve done a great job with the China virus, a great job. And whether it’s ventilators or whether it’s vaccines, which you will be seeing very soon, or therapeutics, we’ve done a great job.”

Trump has been criticized for dragging his feet on dealing with the pandemic and downplaying the dangers of the virus while politicizing the issue of wearing masks by refusing at first to wear one in public.

Not only does the U.S. lead the world in the total numbers of deaths and confirmed cases, but it also accounts for almost a quarter of the more than 27.3 million cases and about a fifth of the nearly 893,000-plus deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease expert and a frequent Trump target, poured cold water on the prospect that life in the U.S. would get back to normal soon until there’s a coronavirus vaccine.

“We will not return to a complete normality until we have a vaccine,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the Research! America 2020 National Health Research Forum. “We probably won’t do that until next year around this time in 2021.”

It’s less-than-optimistic remarks like that that sparked a White House attempt to discredit Fauci in July.

And on Friday, a research outfit that the Trump administration used to rely on for favorable pandemic predictions warned that the death toll in the U.S. could more than double by Jan. 1.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine said.

  • Coronavirus fatigue appears to be setting in across the country, and while a majority of Americans still believe businesses are reopening too soon, the number is shrinking, according to a new NBC|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking Poll. “The shift comes as more facets of American life are returning to some semblance of normal — professional sports have been restarting, many states have relaxed coronavirus-related restrictions, and some schools have started opening with a mix of in-person and virtual options,” NBC News reported.

  • Tyler Goodspeed, the acting chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said half of the 22 million jobs that were lost in March and April when the U.S. economy was shut down have been regained. “We were certainly very encouraged by the fact that the unemployment rate dropped by 1.8 percentage points down by 8.4 percent in August,” Goodspeed said on CNBC. “That was vastly exceeding expectations.” Other economists, however, were less impressed. “Job gains so far have probably been the easy ones to get, where a business opened back up and brought back in its employees,” Dan North, a senior economist at Euler Hermes North America, said Friday. They also warned that another wave of layoffs could be coming, especially in hard-hit sectors like the airline industry. Hundreds of members of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, joined by other aviation workers, plan to demonstrate Wednesday outside the U.S. Capitol.

  • West Virginia University became the latest big university to suspend in-person classes on its main campus after a recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases. About 51,000 cases and 60 deaths have been reported at about 1,500 colleges and universities surveyed by The New York Times. The five universities with the most cases? The University of Alabama (1,367), the University of South Carolina (1,192), the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (1,100), Auburn University (1,074), and Illinois State University (1,029)