Coronavirus cases top 200K U.S. reaches new milestone in coronavirus cases
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

As of Wednesday afternoon, the number of Americans confirmed to have COVID-19 had reached 206,207.

The United States on Wednesday surpassed 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, nearly doubling the number of cases in Italy and Spain, the countries with the next highest number of cases. As of Wednesday afternoon, the toll of confirmed cases had reached 206,207.

More than 4,300 Americans have died so far, surpassing the death toll from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The number of cases and deaths are expected to continue rising in the coming days and weeks, straining already-overwhelmed hospital systems nationwide. The grim milestone comes just one day after the White House said that as many as 240,000 Americans would die from the pandemic, even with mitigation efforts such as stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines.

These deaths, many experts say, could have been avoided, if only the United States had prepared adequately for the pandemic. Instead, President Trump and his administration’s response to the coronavirus have been described as one of the worst in the world

America’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus came on Jan. 21 in Washington State, but President Trump initially declined to pursue more aggressive testing for the disease out of fear that more positive cases would hurt his bid for re-election

Trump also minimized the severity of the virus for six weeks, comparing it to the flu and calling it a Democratic hoax, while his administration ignored a 69-page National Security Council playbook on fighting pandemics. According to that playbook, the government should have begun efforts more than two months ago to obtain personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, and gowns. They didn’t, and now doctors and nurses across the country are reporting severe shortages of those supplies and contracting the virus themselves. Two nurses in New York City, the nation’s worst coronavirus hot spot, have already died.

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The CDC also botched the development of its first coronavirus test and the nation’s testing failures were so severe that in February, as more people across the U.S. became sick, government labs processed only 352 COVID-19 tests, an average of only 12 per day in a nation of more than 300 million people, according to CDC data. The Trump administration has since allowed private and academic labs to develop their own tests, which has ramped up the pace of testing. The shortage remains massive, however, and Americans are still struggling to obtain tests.

The federal government’s response to the coronavirus has been called the “worst intelligence failure in US history,” and epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, the doctor who helped eradicate smallpox, said Trump’s labeling of the pandemic as a “Democratic hoax” was the “most irresponsible act of an elected official” that he’d witnessed in his lifetime.

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence rejected the idea that President Trump “belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the U.S. would have been “better off” in responding to the virus if China had shared more information about the virus. 

Blitzer responded that it would have helped if Trump “wouldn’t have been belittling the enormity of this crisis, the coronavirus pandemic as he was.”

“Wolf, respectfully I take issue with two things that you just said,” Pence replied. “I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus.”

Blitzer reminded Pence that Trump repeatedly minimized the death toll of the coronavirus, comparing it to death rates caused by the flu and car accidents. He also reminded Pence of Trump’s comments on Feb. 27 that the 15 cases reported at the time in the U.S. would soon be down “close to zero.”

Pence said Trump was an “optimistic person,” and continued to lavish praise on him for his response to the pandemic, even as America is now far and away the home of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

The loss of life in the United States is on track to be so catastrophic, that even in the best-case scenario presented by the White House on Tuesday, it will surpass the death tolls of the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.