While You Were Sleeping: Coronavirus updates for January 20

Coronavirus

US tops 400,000 coronavirus deaths. The United States topped more than 400,000 coronavirus deaths on the eve of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. The milestone comes almost one year to the day after the country’s first confirmed case of the virus.

Johns Hopkins University reported the deaths Tuesday during the final hours of President Donald Trump’s term. It took the United States less than five weeks to rise from 300,000 to 400,000. The first reported cases of coronavirus in the United States was reported on Jan. 21, 2020.

The U.S. accounts for nearly 1 of every 5 virus deaths reported worldwide, far more than any other country despite its great wealth and medical resources.

Across the United States, more than 123,000 people were hospitalized with the virus Monday, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The CDC warned last week that the new, more infectious variant first seen in Britain will probably become the dominant version in the U.S. by March.

More than 12.2 million Americans have received their first shot of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that more than 31.1 million doses have been distributed across the country.

President-elect Joe Biden holds ceremony on eve of inauguration to honor the 400,000 Americans who died from COVID-19. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Empire State building, landmarks across the United States were illuminated on Tuesday evening as part of a ceremony led by President-elect Joe Biden to honor the 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

The commemoration comes just hours before President Donald Trump leaves the White House and hands over a country in crisis. The ceremony, spearheaded by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will be the federal government’s first nod to the staggering death toll from the pandemic.

Biden and Harris led a lighting ceremony at the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial at 5:15 p.m. ET, followed by a moment of silence and 400 bell tolls at the National Cathedral to symbolically honor the COVID-19 dead.

“Hundreds of towns, cities, tribes, landmarks, and communities all across the country have committed to joining the tribute in a national moment of unity,” Biden’s inaugural committee said in a statement.

Indianapolis man and wife die of COVID-19 one day apart. More than 400,000 people in the United States have now died of COVID-19. That includes an Indianapolis couple married for three decades. Ernest Ronald Wilkins, 66, and his wife Ann Grissom-Wilkins, 59, died one day apart this month after catching COVID-19.

Since March, they tried to do everything right to not get sick. Their family said the couple was very careful because Ronald was diabetic and Ann recently finished radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Relatives and the couple even decided to have Thanksgiving over a video chat this year to stay safe.

“We didn’t want to be that family where they talk about the empty chair,” said Ruth Grissom, sister of Ann.

Even with all of the precautions, Ruth said the couple contracted COVID-19 in early December. It was not long after that when Ann went to the hospital for severe symptoms.

“It was a real rollercoaster the entire time,” said Ruth. “But Ann had four good days and then the floor fell out from under us.”

A few days after Ann went to the hospital, Ronald was also admitted at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. Ronald’s long-time friend, Bryan Bradford, encouraged him to go.

“This was the last conversation me and Ron had,” said Bradford. “And that conversation was, he was really scared of losing his wife.”

Thousands of central Indiana students return to the classroom. Like 77 of Indiana’s 92 counties, Marion County remains in the “red” advisory level, according to the Indiana State Department of Health’s (ISDH) coronavirus dashboard.

Despite the current advisory level, some school districts are beginning to head back to in-person learning and many are following a phased-in approach, as recommended.

Initially Marion County was set to allow students and teachers back for in-person instruction beginning Jan. 15, but an amended public health order changed that to Jan. 4.

Recommendations were given by the Marion County Public Health Department to allow return to in-person learning as long as students and staff can be socially distanced, students and staff wear masks in 3rd grade and above, and parents, students, and teachers avoid any unnecessary contact outside of their household for 10 days prior to the Jan. 4 return.

However, districts like Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS), the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township and the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township opted to start after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

All three of those districts returned to in-person learning on Jan. 19, following guidelines and recommendations set forth by the Marion County Public Health Department, ISDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

IPS returned to in-person learning for students in grades Pre-K-3 on Tuesday. Students in grades 4-12 remain on full remote learning.

WHO panel criticizes slow response to outbreak origins. A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization has criticized China and other countries for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier and questioned whether the U.N. health agency should have labeled it a pandemic sooner.

In a report issued to the media Monday, the panel led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said there were “lost opportunities” to adopt basic public health measures as early as possible.

“What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” it said.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying disputed whether China had reacted too slowly.

“As the first country to sound the global alarm against the epidemic, China made immediate and decisive decisions,” she said, pointing out that Wuhan — where the first human cases were identified — was locked down within three weeks of the outbreak starting.

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