Health and Science

The US coronavirus death toll surpasses American fatalities from the Vietnam War

Key Points
  • The U.S. National Archives says that 58,220 American soldiers died in the Vietnam conflict, which began in 1955 and ended in 1975.
  • Covid-19 has now claimed more lives in the U.S. since it officially arrived in the country in January, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 
  • Nearly half of the country's deaths are concentrated in New York state, which is home to the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, New York City.
Omar Rodriguez organizes bodies in the Gerard Neufeld funeral home in Queens on April 22, 2020 in New York City. The funeral home, which is close to Elmhurst Hospital, often has to take the phone off the hook as it rings continually.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

U.S. officials and public health specialists have repeatedly compared the country's coronavirus mitigation efforts to that of a war, and now Covid-19 has taken more U.S. lives than the Vietnam War. 

The U.S. National Archives says that 58,220 American soldiers died in the Vietnam conflict, which began in 1955 and ended in 1975. Covid-19 has now claimed more lives in the U.S. since it officially arrived in the country in January, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

 Covid-19 has killed 58,365 people so far in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins.

"We're in war," President Donald Trump proclaimed at a White House news conference last week. "I call it the 'invisible enemy.' That's the war, and it's a dangerous war."

The coronavirus has rapidly spread across the globe over the last four months, infecting roughly 3 million people and killing more than 200,000, giving it a mortality rate of close to 7%. 

The mortality rate generally drops as testing rises and more patients are identified. U.S. officials estimate that millions of people have likely had the virus in the U.S. and haven't been identified, projecting a mortality rate of closer to 1%. Even so, Covid-19 is significantly more infectious and deadly than the seasonal flu, which has a mortality rate of about 0.1% and kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year around the world.  

As the infection spread rapidly across the U.S. in March, hospitals in New York City and the surrounding counties were nearly overwhelmed by the surge of Covid-19 patients.

Though some states, including New York, say the number of new infections appears to have peaked, driving the infection rates down will be difficult, Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner and a CNBC contributor, told CNBC on Monday. 

"The reality is there is still pervasive spread of coronavirus across the entire nation," he said on CNBC's "Squawk Box," adding that some parts of the country never saw a major outbreak. "But for most parts of the country, they've plateaued but they haven't really started to show sustained declines in new cases."

The U.S. is still reporting roughly 30,000 new infections and nearly 2,000 deaths due to Covid-19 every day, said Gottlieb, who sits on the boards of Pfizer and biotech company Illumina.

"Across the nation, we're still very much in the throes of this epidemic," he said.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects there will be more than 67,000 U.S. deaths from Covid-19 by the end of May. The White House has used the institute's data in crafting its coronavirus response plans. 

As the virus continues to spread, some states are reopening as soon as this week. Vice President Mike Pence said last week that 16 states have unveiled "formal reopening plans" to lift coronavirus restrictions. He said Missouri, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Idaho have all released plans to ease measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

As states eye reopening, some governors and public health specialists have warned about a resurgence of the virus, especially next fall, which could coincide with the standard flu season.

"There's a real chance that come the fall, we have tools in place that we can mitigate small outbreaks and detect small outbreaks and we're not facing a constant risk of this infection," Gottlieb said. "Or there's a chance that we never really get rid of the infection. It smolders through the summer and we come back in the fall and it sort of explodes into new large outbreaks and maybe even risk another epidemic."

There are currently no proven therapies to treat Covid-19. Dozens of potential treatments are in clinical trials around the world as companies seek to get a treatment to market as soon as possible.

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