Coronavirus

‘This has been a catastrophic failure’: Ashish Jha reacts to U.S. surpassing 500,000 dead from COVID-19

“I don’t think I could have imagined a year ago that we would be at 500,000.”

Dr. Ashish Jha. Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe, File

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Dr. Ashish Jha is reacting to the loss of more than half a million lives to COVID-19 in the United States, calling the death toll from the pandemic “unimaginable.”

The remarks from the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health came during an appearance Monday on MSNBC. 

“I don’t think I could have imagined a year ago that we would be at 500,000,” Jha said. “This has been a catastrophic failure, probably one of the biggest failures in American history.”

The physician said there are several things he hopes are included in reflecting on the moment of loss. 

“It’s really important to mark this moment, to honor all those people who have been lost, but also to redouble our efforts and our resolve to save as many lives as possible going forward,” he said. “I am very hopeful about the months ahead but we’re not out of this completely yet, and the next couple of months will still be tough.”

The doctor said he hopes that by spring and summer, the battle against COVID-19 in the United States will be “meaningfully better.” 

In a thread on Twitter, Jha shared his analysis of why the seven-day average for the daily number of COVID-19 deaths in the country has been falling “faster than expected.”

One of the reasons, he wrote, is because hospital capacity has been easing, following the surges seen after the holidays.

“Overburdened, packed hospitals means death rates rise … as crowding burden eases, doctors, nurses have more time for each patient,” Jha said. 

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In addition to the falling deaths, the doctor said vaccinations remain another reason to be optimistic about the trajectory of the pandemic going forward. 

“We are now entering a point where infections in nursing homes has fallen a ton because many got vaccinated in January,” Jha said. “And given that [nursing home] residents are the highest risk of death, lower infection rates here [are] starting to translate into fewer deaths.”

Since the recent peak seen, infections nationally are down about 70 percent and deaths have fallen about 40 percent, he said. 

“Over time, I expect deaths to fall faster than cases because hospitals are getting less stressed,” he wrote. “And vaccinations among high risk folks is rising — and beginning to have an effect.”

In marking the passing of more than 500,000 Americans, Jha stressed the importance of remembering that “we have the tools to drive down deaths.”

“We’ll still lose thousands more Americans and variants still loom, but if we vaccinate quickly and hold tight on policy, [the] horrible days of sustained 2000-3000 daily deaths could be behind us,” he wrote. 

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