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Death Toll From COVID-19 In The U.S. Surpasses 200,000


More than 200,000 people have now died from the coronavirus in the United States. That number comes from researchers at Johns Hopkins University who have been tracking the pandemic. And it means COVID-19 is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us to help put this in perspective for us.

And Jason, obviously, we're all living to some degree with effects of the pandemic - virtual school, teleworking, being told to wear masks. But as we hit 200,000 deaths, what can you tell us about who has been dying from this disease, say, demographically?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Yeah. If you look at who has been most likely to be killed by this virus in the United States, it's older Black men. And, you know, to be clear, COVID has killed people of all ages. There's been babies that have died, people in their 20s, all ethnicities. The deaths are spread out across all 50 states. But there are some very clear patterns when you look at, who are these 200,000 people who died from this disease this year? Ninety-two percent of all the deaths in the U.S. have been people over the age of 55. African Americans are dying at a rate far higher than anyone else. Black people make up just 13% of the U.S. population, yet they account for 21% of all the coronavirus deaths so far. Latinos are also dying at a rate that's slightly higher than their representation in the population, but the most dramatic is among Black people. This is all the data that's coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And their breakdown, again, of deaths - we're not talking about cases but deaths - by sex, 54% of the deaths are among men.

PFEIFFER: A lot of disparities - what about compared to other countries, Jason? Has the coronavirus been more deadly here in the U.S.?

BEAUBIEN: You know, in terms of raw numbers of COVID deaths, the U.S. is far higher than anyone. The closest is Brazil. They've had just over 130,000 deaths. But by comparison, like, the U.K. has had 40,000. Italy's had 35,000. The U.S. is a large country - third largest after China and India. And in terms of the fatality rates, when you start looking at deaths per one million population, the U.S. still ranks up there globally in the top 10. So compared to other countries, we have not done very well. Some low- and middle-income countries, including, like, Rwanda and Vietnam - they've managed to keep their COVID death numbers incredibly low.

PFEIFFER: We've had flare-ups of COVID-19 in different parts of the country at different times. Where are the current trouble spots, in a sense? And then where is the pandemic expected to be worse in the U.S. in coming months?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, so if you go back to, like, late February, this really started to take hold in New York. And even now, when you look at the statistics, the deaths - 23% of all deaths so far from COVID are just in New York and New Jersey. By March and April, the virus was spreading all over. But again, it was primarily spreading into urban areas. NPR's data wizards - they've been tracking this stuff, and you can look it up on our website. But beginning in March, almost 100% of the cases were in large urban areas. Now, large urban areas only make up 50% of where those cases are occurring, and the rest are in smaller cities and rural areas.

And this growth outside of cities - it's expected to continue. It's a complicating factor. You know, testing has been hard enough in places like Baltimore and Houston and Atlanta. And as this pandemic heats up in places with even less access to testing and health care, it's going to pose significant challenges. You know, some experts are saying that the U.S. could easily hit 300,000 deaths by the end of the year, maybe even 400,000 if we get a lot more cases in places where people are struggling to get access to care and where people aren't socially distancing or wearing masks.

PFEIFFER: Two hundred thousand deaths is a milestone number, but put it in perspective for us. How does that 200,000 from COVID compare to other disease in the U.S.?

BEAUBIEN: You know, this makes COVID, which didn't even exist a year ago, now the third leading cause of death in this country. Only heart disease and cancer are claiming more lives.

PFEIFFER: So startling to hear that - that's NPR's Jason Beaubien.

Thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.