COVID Has Killed 1 in 1000 Americans

As we approach the new year, the virus is at its peak.

Despite developing vaccines in record time, we’re a long way from the end of this pandemic. And it’s looking to get worse before it gets better.

Lauren Wolfe and Andrea Kannapell for NYT (“1 of every 17 people in the U.S. has been infected, and 1 in 1,000 has died. Yet the worst may lie ahead.“):

With bubble-enclosed Santas and Zoom-enhanced family gatherings, much of the United States played it safe over Christmas while the coronavirus rampaged across the country.

But a significant number of Americans traveled, and uncounted gatherings took place, as they will over the New Year holiday.

And that, according to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, could mean new spikes in cases, on top of the existing surge.

“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Year’s — surge,” Dr. Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Anecdotally, while we remained cocooned in our household, many friends, family, and acquaintances got together as though it were a normal holiday season. This includes a number of highly intelligent, successful people who are keeping up with current events. People are just over this thing. Alas, the thing is not over.

U.S. case numbers are about as high as they have ever been. Total infections surpassed 19 million on Saturday, meaning that at least 1 in 17 people have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic. And the virus has killed more than 332,000 people — one in every thousand in the country.

Two of the year’s worst days for deaths have been during the past week. A number of states set death records on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23, including Alabama, Wisconsin, Arizona and West Virginia, according to The Times’s data.

And hospitalizations are hovering at a pandemic height of about 120,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Against that backdrop, millions of people in the United States have been traveling, though many fewer than usual.

About 3.8 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration travel checkpoints between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, compared with 9.5 million on those days last year. Only a quarter of the number who flew on the day after Christmas last year did so on Friday, and Christmas Eve travel was down by one-third from 2019.

And AAA’s forecast that more than 81 million Americans would travel by car for the holiday period, from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, which would be about one-third fewer than last year.

It may well be that two-thirds to three-quarters of people behaving responsibly at considerable social sacrifice is the best we can reasonably expect. Once governments started ordering shutdowns in March, it was inevitable that, once those orders were lifted, people would not only have pent-up demand to get out and reduced willingness to go through that again but also come away with a false sense of confidence that things must be okay.

Nine months is an incredibly long time to hide from an invisible threat if not forced to do so. And, in my anecdotal experience, it seems that the elderly—the most vulnerable to the virus—are the ones paying least heed to masking and social distancing requirements. My wife’s parents, both in their mid-70s and one in very poor health, have been carrying on as though there’s nothing going on and irritated that we don’t want to get together. If you think you have few Thanksgivings and Christmases left, it’s likely harder to forego the traditional celebration.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Last evening, my wife was having a mini-rant over friends who described the elaborate precautions they were taking so that they could socialize with family over the holidays. Her point being, the fact that they took the precautions, shows that they understand the risks, but proceeded anyway.

    Denial is a powerful drug.

    Me? I haven’t been out of the house since Wednesday.

  2. Kylopod says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I have noticed for a while now that how seriously people take the virus exists on a spectrum. There isn’t some black-and-white divide where on one side you have full-on Covid deniers and on the other you have people who understand the risks and take the proper precautions. Part of it is that even in the right-wing media where there’s been heavy minimization of the threat, they’ve given distinctly mixed signals. You see people with masks even at Trump’s packed rallies, and I believe it’s a big part of the reason for why his Tulsa rally flopped. But even outside the right-wing world, a lot of people do things which I would not think of doing right now–for example, the practice of going to restaurants and eating outdoors, with larger-than-normal gaps between tables. I can’t say these people are ignoring the threat (of course some of it’s just following the restaurants’ requirements), but they are engaging in activities they should probably be skipping altogether.

  3. Kathy says:


    There’s this guy at work who studiously wears only KN95 masks, and does so in such a way that his nose is uncovered.

  4. steve says:

    I do this for a living so I probably take it more seriously than most, but I understand it is really difficult to adhere to the restrictions all of the time. If people adhere to most of the rules most of the time I am pretty happy, especially if they avoid the really egregious stuff like mass indoor gatherings. (I think outdoors is pretty safe.) It is irksome when I hear people brag about not wearing masks or taking any precautions. The evil voice in my head says “Darwin in action”, but then we take care of them anyway.


  5. DrDaveT says:


    There’s this guy at work who studiously wears only KN95 masks, and does so in such a way that his nose is uncovered.

    I ask such people (if it’s someone I know) to please either wear the mask properly or take it off. I don’t care which, but I want to be able to tell from a distance whether I need to avoid them or not.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    As we approach the new year, the virus is at its peak.

    Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine. The virus is clearly NOT “at its peak”; it’s expanding rapidly. “At its peak” means it isn’t going to go any higher; it’s an invitation to relax because we’ve stopped the growth.

    And please don’t say it’s “spiking” either, because that means that while it’s rising rapidly it will then fall just as rapidly, so no big deal.

    Think of it like a wildfire. If a wildfire has doubled in size over the past week and is at its largest extent yet, you would never say that it was peaking, or spiking.

    End of rant. Again, apologies.

  7. CSK says:

    It would be interesting to know how many people who’ve adhered strictly to the protocols have become infected.

  8. Kathy says:

    I’ve read that viruses with an outer lipid coating, tend to do worse in warm temperatures because the higher temperatures weaken or melt the fatty layers, rendering the virus either dead or less effective. Conversely, this layer is well-protected by lower temperatures, explaining why they do better in the winter.

    If this applies to SARS-CoV-2, which has a lipid coating, then it shows higher temperatures only slows it down. The US peaked higher in July than April and May. But it also shows extra care is needed in fall and winter, as the virus lasts longer in droplets and aerosols than it does in the Spring or Summer.

    So it may not be that people are spending more time indoors, or gathering more, but just that the virus spreads better now than it did a few months ago. All the more reason not to gather for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    My co-workers and I had a virtual meeting a few weeks ago, at which our boss pleaded that we not slack off on distancing and washing our hands, given that an actual vaccine was just about to be released.

    I don’t understand Baby Boomers who are shrugging their shoulders and saying “what the hell”. All of my friends–and yes, we’re mainly Baby Boomers ourselves–are being VERY careful. Yes, we have fewer years left to us than younger people–but given that we’ve got a higher chance of having problems if we do catch Covid, you’d think we would care more in any case. The people I know in their 70s and 80s are staying at home, wiping stuff with disinfectant, and quarantining anything that comes in for up to a week. (The one acquaintance of mine who is pooh-poohing masks is, you may have guessed, someone who has gone down the Trump rabbit hole.)

  10. Kathy says:

    Another thing I’ve noticed is some people are stuck in cleaning surfaces mode. they won’t wear masks, or keep their distance from others, but they will spray Lysol on everything they may touch, and rub their hands raw with hand sanitizer.

    At work there are constant reminders to wear masks and maintain distance, but they also installed a “sanitizing arch” at the entrance to corporate, and they spray some kind of sanitizing fluid in all offices twice a day.

    It seems harmless, but getting everyone out for spraying means they all gather in the stairwell for a few minutes, usually talking and laughing, and not keeping their distance. They still wear masks, at least.

    You can get COVID from a contaminated surface, no doubt, but the odds are small compared with person to person transmission.

  11. DrDaveT says:


    You can get COVID from a contaminated surface, no doubt, but the odds are small compared with person to person transmission.

    This is another good example of the cognitive bias that overwhelmingly favors the first thing you learn about a new situation. Contact infection risk was the first thing the CDC pushed, long before they got behind the whole mask thing. Now, even when the official voices have finally figured out the relative risks, it doesn’t matter — too many people still think hand sanitizer is vital and that masks are at best marginally useful, and nothing is going to change their minds at this point.

  12. Kathy says:


    This is another good example of the cognitive bias that overwhelmingly favors the first thing you learn about a new situation.

    IMO that’s why Churchill bemoaned lies can get halfway around the world while truth is putting its shoes on.

    As noted, though, you can get COVID from contaminated surfaces. Simply washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, and keeping your hands away from eyes, ears, nose, and mouth seems like precaution enough.

    That said, when I get a coffee at Starbucks, I wipe the lid with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide before taking a sip. Why? because the barista might be sick and pass it on, even if they wear a mask, and the lid goes to my mouth. Plus the investment in “sanitizing” the lid is very small.

  13. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: A bunch of years ago, I had a superficial blood clot in my leg — the swelling, stiffness and pain of a DVT, but without the danger. Because I have anxiety problems, I assumed every weird leg pain or feeling was a blood clot for years after that, and would go to the doctor, where she would examine me, and tell me something like “that weird warm-wet feeling is a lightly pinched nerve” or something. She would measure my legs, see no swelling, and send me on my way.

    So, eventually, I began measuring my calves every day, and if they were about the same, shrug and ignore any weird leg pain. This went on for years.

    Eventually I decided it was just crazy and I was letting my anxiety rule my life, so I stopped. A month later I had a massive pulmonary embolism that probably started as a DVT that I would have noticed had I been measuring my calves every day.

    So, keep cleaning those lids. It might be crazy. It might be the lowest likelihood vector in your life, but don’t dare stop.

    Sometimes crazy works.