Joe Biden has taken charge of the US response to the coronavirus pandemic as the country reported a record daily increase in deaths.
One year to the day since the first Covid-19 case was diagnosed in the US, states attributed a further 4,409 deaths to the virus, according to data on Wednesday from the Covid Tracking Project.
The latest figures came hours after Mr Biden in his inauguration speech reflected on a “deadly virus” that has claimed the lives of about 400,000 Americans, cost millions of jobs and closed businesses. He called for a unified response to address what he said “may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus”.
On his first afternoon as president, Mr Biden signed several executive orders, some aimed at curbing the pandemic, including one establishing a mask mandate on federal properties for the next 100 days, and another creating a position to co-ordinate the government’s response to the crisis.
The new administration has taken office as leaders and public health officials race to keep the vaccine rollout on track to restore public trust and blunt the risks posed by a newly identified, more infectious strain of the disease, while the country’s death toll lurches higher.
Since the start of the pandemic, 24.1m Americans have tested positive for coronavirus, while 396,837 people have died, according to data from the CTP. Johns Hopkins University, which uses an alternate methodology, has reported the death toll exceeds 400,000.
States have attributed more than 57,000 deaths to coronavirus in January, almost 20,000 fatalities shy of December’s toll, the deadliest month so far. Estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the number of fatalities in the country could reach 508,000 by February 13.
In his first act as president, Mr Biden called for the crowds at the Capitol and at home to join him in a moment of silent prayer to remember those who died in the past year because of coronavirus.
The headline numbers emphasised the scale of the pandemic within the US, but recent trends suggest there could be a reprieve following a surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths that may have peaked in early January in the wake of the holiday season.
The US reported 185,822 new infections on Wednesday, according to the data from the CTP, bringing the average over the past week down to 192,825 cases per day. Ten days earlier, the US was averaging a record 244,707 cases a day.
The number of people in hospital with coronavirus was 122,700, the latest data showed. While it is the lowest level in more than three weeks, healthcare resources around the country have been strained by the number of patients being treated.
Deaths tend to lag trends in hospitalisations and cases. Beginning January 7, the US’s daily death toll from the pandemic exceeded 4,000 on several occasions. That trend has begun to ease in the past few days, however, and the US has averaged 3,043 deaths a day over the past week.
Mr Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100m Americans within his first 100 days in office, and plans to call on everyone in the country to wear a mask.
In the five weeks since the first vaccines were shipped, about 36m doses have been distributed to states, but only 14.3m people have received at least one shot so far, according to the CDC — well below the Trump administration’s goal of having distributed 20m jabs by the end of 2020.