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U.S. surpasses 250,000 coronavirus deaths as virus mortality rate surges

In other coronavirus news: The FDA gives the greenlight to the first home testing kit, and the Pfizer vaccine is more effective than first realized.
Image: Funeral Home In New York Experiences Surge Of Deaths Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
James Harvey tends to the inventory of pre-sold caskets at a funeral home in New York City in April.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

The United States has recorded a quarter-million Covid-19 deaths, the latest NBC News numbers showed Wednesday, and the death rate has been accelerating in recent weeks as cases have been surging across the country.

The 250,000th death was logged Wednesday morning, the data revealed.

In the last four weeks there has been a 42 percent increase in the number of fatalities, from a weekly average of 821 per day in early October to last week’s average of 1,167 per day, according to an NBC News analysis of the available data.

And a year after the first Covid-19 infection was reported in China, people were dying in America at a pace not seen since mid-August, the analysis showed.

In other coronavirus news:

  • The New York City public school system, which is the largest in the country, will temporarily halt in-class education and resume virtual learning because of a surge in new Covid-19 cases, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced.
  • The federal Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first Covid-19 test designed for users to take at home, which provides results within an hour.
  • The Pfizer vaccine will be submitted for regulatory approval "within days," and the final analysis suggests the drug is even more effective than previously thought.
  • Congress remains deadlocked over a coronavirus relief bill, and lawmakers in both parties are pessimistic about passing one in the near future. "I'm kind of discouraged, frankly, right now," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.
  • The Biden team is going to have to figure out how to work in the cramped quarters of the White House during a pandemic. "The entire functionality of the White House is people crammed around desks and huddling at a meeting," a Biden adviser told NBC News. Trump's team has not been as careful, and multiple people inside the White House have been infected, including the president.
  • Dr. Aileen Marty, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at Florida International University, called the advice Gov. Ron DeSantis used to justify his decision to loosen restrictions Florida seven weeks ago "utter and complete junk."
  • Starting Tuesday, an upscale New York City restaurant will test patrons for Covid-19 before they are allowed inside. City Winery New York will be the first restaurant in the country to create a “100 percent COVID-tested” space, spokeswoman Hanna Bruy said. It also means an extra $50 will be added to the bill.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases continued to climb rapidly, and the pandemic showed no sign of slowing down as the holiday season loomed and two very promising vaccines were still months away from widespread distribution.

In addition to deaths, the U.S. leads the world with 11.4 million Covid-19 infections, the NBC News figures showed.

"Right now, we are in an absolutely dangerous situation that we have to take with the utmost seriousness," Dr. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration's coronavirus testing czar, told MSBNC's Andrea Mitchell. "This is not crying wolf. This is the worst rate of rise in cases that we have seen in the pandemic in the United States. And, right now, there's no sign of flattening."

And with all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam reporting increases Wednesday in coronavirus cases over the past 14 days, according to the latest NBC News data, hospitals and the doctors and nurses contending with a deluge of sick patients were at the breaking point.

"We're approaching, I think, desperation," Dr. Julie Watson, chief medical officer at Integris Health in Oklahoma, said on MSNBC. "I think we have to have our citizens helping us by wearing a mask and keeping their distance.”

Asked for her reaction to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt's continued refusal to impose a mask mandate, Watson said, “It is baffling to me how this has become a political issue."

"The flu isn't political, heart disease is not political, kidney disease is not political, but somehow putting on a face covering to protect the person, you know, next to you or around you has somehow become political,” she said.

The grim numbers were piling up as President Donald Trump continued to balk at conceding the election to President-elect Joe Biden. As a result, the Democrat’s Covid-19 team has been trying to prepare to take over the responsibility of fighting the pandemic without access to information in the hands of the White House coronavirus task force led by Vice President Mike Pence.

“Our team cannot communicate with them,” Dr. David Kessler, a member of Biden’s advisory committee, said. “The sooner the Biden transition team can meet with officials working on these questions, the more seamlessly the transition will be the American people.”

And a lot of the information the Trump team is sitting on is dire.

In an internal report obtained Tuesday by NBC News, the White House coronavirus task force warned there is “now aggressive, unrelenting, expanding broad community spread across the country, reaching most counties, without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration.”

The task force report also warned that current efforts to stop the spread “are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve” and that the coming Thanksgiving holiday has the potential to “amplify transmission considerably.”

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That message was undermined by Dr. Scott Atlas, one of Trump’s top pandemic advisers, who during interviews on Fox News this week appeared to encourage large Thanksgiving family gatherings and dismissed any talk about the rising number of deaths as fearmongering.

“Yes, there are people dying,” Atlas said Tuesday on the “Brian Kilmeade Show.” “But those deaths, the number of deaths, it’s not exploding like it did back in the spring.”

Atlas, a conservative ideologue who is a radiologist and not an expert on infectious diseases, has been accused of, among other things, peddling misinformation about herd immunity and making false claims about the effectiveness of masks at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the world’s top public health experts say masks protect both the wearers and everybody else from infection.

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