The U.S. topped 1,000 coronavirus deaths in a single day for the first time Wednesday, a daily death toll more than double that of two of America’s most deadly illnesses – lung cancer and the flu.
Death counts from the virus are difficult to keep up to date, but the Johns Hopkins coronavirus database – whose sources include the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the European CDC and the National Health Commission of China – shows that the U.S. hit 1,040 cases Wednesday at 10:25 p.m. ET. Since the virus’ first appearance in the U.S. in late January, 5,116 people have died and more than 215,000 have been infected.
The previous high mark for a single day in the U.S. was Tuesday, with 504 deaths.
Some researchers say the daily death toll could more than double – to 2,200 or more – by mid-April. That figure would eclipse heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer with about 1,772 deaths per day, according to the CDC.
“Our country is in the midst of a great national trial,” President Donald Trump said in a White House briefing on the virus. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”
Lung cancer kills 433 people each day in the U.S. – that’s the same number of seats on a Boeing 747 airplane, according to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America. Breast cancer kills about 116 Americans a day.
The flu, a chronic killer that the nation has come to expect in yearly cycles – and the reason millions of Americans get flu shots – killed an estimated 508 people per day in the U.S. during the 2017-18 flu season, the nation’s worst in the last decade, according to the CDC. This year’s flu season has recorded an average of 383 deaths per day, CDC figures show.
While health officials say COVID-19 is considered a flash medical event in that it is unlikely to maintain its deadly hold for more than three or four months, the 1,000 threshold is a significant one because it shows just how potent an unforeseen outbreak can be on the U.S. medical system.
It also raises questions about COVID-19’s possible deadly effects over time. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has cautioned that the virus could become a recurring event, much like the flu. He said that the U.S. needs to get ready for the next cycle, possibly to occur in the fall of 2020.
“We really need to be prepared for another cycle,” Fauci said.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized the need to continue developing a vaccine and test it quickly so it will be available “for that next cycle.”
A University of Washington study updated this week projects that if the entire nation makes an all-out effort to restrict contact, coronavirus deaths will peak in the next two weeks and patients will overwhelm hospitals in most states.
Nationally, the University of Washington model predicts a peak daily death toll of 2,214 in mid-April, and a total of 84,000 Americans dead by the end of summer. That’s more than twice the lives claimed during the 2018-19 flu season, which killed 34,000 people, according to the CDC.
But that figure represents the model’s most likely estimate. The range of scenarios spans from 36,000 COVID-19 deaths to more than 152,000, according to the research team led by Christopher Murray, founder and chair of the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.
As many as 240,000 Americans may die from the new coronavirus according to estimates released by the White House on Tuesday, a grim prediction that influenced President Donald Trump’s decision to extend social distancing guidelines.
The daily coronavirus death toll likely won’t dip below 100 before June 11, the study predicts.
Coronavirus symptoms can be confused with that of the flu and, indeed, the two viruses have similar effects. Tracking the flu has been equally troublesome for health officials. The CDC says the burden of influenza disease in the United States can vary widely and is determined by a number of factors including the characteristics of circulating viruses, the timing of the flu season, how well vaccines are working and how many people got vaccinated.
Health experts say the future of the coronavirus depends on such factors as whether humans develop increasing immunity to it and whether an effective vaccine is developed. If neither occurs, the virus will likely continue to circulate and establish itself as a common respiratory virus like the flu.
The CDC estimates that the flu has resulted in 9 million to 45 million illnesses, 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.
Contributing: Katie Wedell, Erin Mansfield and Dinah Pulver, USA TODAY Network