At noon on January 20, Joe Biden officially became the 46th President of the United States. He’s inheriting a nation and, really, a world in the throes of the COVID pandemic and the disturbing numbers of cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and shaky COVID vaccine rollout which have brought us to this moment.
It’s become cliché to call the coronavirus outbreak “unprecedented,” but clichés come about for a reason. Biden’s inaugural address illustrated the point as the new President pointed to COVID’s devastating toll on American lives and the economy. Just last week, Ron Klain, a longtime political operative who led the Obama administration’s response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 and will serve as Biden’s chief of staff, warned that the U.S. COVID death toll would likely cross 500,000 by next month.
“In my first act as President, I would like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all those we lost this past year to the pandemic,” said Biden in his inaugural address. “To those 400,000 fellow Americans, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.”
Here’s where we stand on the key metrics that the Biden administration will need to keep its eye on as it begins to implement its COVID strategy.
Current number of COVID cases
Johns Hopkins’ COVID tracker pegs the total number of U.S. COVID cases to date at more than 24 million Americans. Population centers such as New York and California have seen the most number of cases given the nature of the infectious disease.
Current number of COVID hospitalizations
Hospitalizations can be even more complex to keep track of since information must stream in from locales and states to the federal government. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website currently only has data through the week ending on January 9. The COVID Tracking Project has more recent information through January 14.
“The overall cumulative COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate through the week ending January 9, 2021 was 364.3 hospitalizations per 100,000 population,” writes the agency.
ICU bed shortages
Not everyone who contracts COVID has to be ventilated or placed into an ICU bed. But enough Americans have gotten sick enough that local communities are struggling to provide open beds, and in some places, even pulling back on non-COVID related hospital activities.
According to the New York Times, as of the week ending January 14, more than 20% of U.S. hospitals with intensive care units had at least 95% of their ICU beds occupied.
U.S. COVID deaths
To date, approximately 405,000 Americans have died of COVID, according to Johns Hopkins. The number of deaths vary wildly by state and population density.
New York and California, for instance, have the largest number of deaths in the U.S. at about 42,000 and 35,000, respectively. There have been nearly 2.1 million global COVID deaths since the pandemic began.
U.S. COVID vaccinations
As of January 20, the CDC reported that nearly 36 million doses of the two currently authorized COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which both require two doses administered weeks apart, had been distributed in the U.S.
That falls far short of initial goals set by the Trump administration last year due to a series of logistical problems. And distribution isn’t the same thing as actually getting people vaccinated: Just 16.5 million of doses have actually been administered per CDC data.