U.S. reaches staggering human toll of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

Flags for the fallen lined the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Tuesday. One flag for every one-thousand people who've died of COVID-19, as the U.S. death toll has climbed above 200,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University, with losses now surpassing the number of all Americans killed in both World War One and the Vietnam War.

Dr. Robert Wachter, Professor and Chair of the UCSF Department of Medicine posted a long Twitter thread about the death toll.

"9/11 resonates with everyone. And it's sixty-seven 9/11's," said Dr. Wachter, who also posted photos of cities such as Salt Lake City and Grand Rapids, Michigan which have populations close to 200,000.

While the number of coronavirus deaths was compared to influenza in the early days by President Trump and the White House, the new coronavirus SARS-CoV2 has proven to be much more deadly.

"Some people talk about is it like the flu? And it's not. It's far worse. This would be the equivalent of five years of flu deaths in the United States," said Dr. Wachter.

No one knows the pain and loss more than the families of those 200,000 victims.

Emma Patino, 84, of Hayward died in April.

Her grandson Jaime Patino, a city councilman in Union City says the family still feels her loss.

"We still haven't had closure. We still haven't had a proper burial. We still can't get together as a family and grieve. She was the matriarch of our family and we still haven't been able to do that," said Patino.

Patino has a message to those who doubt the pandemic and COVID precautions.

"You probably will know somebody before this is all through that has either had it or passed away from it. So, the numbers are real, the people are real, the families are real, the grief is real," said Patino.

Dr. Wachter says already the U.S. has seen a 15% increase in cases in the past two weeks. He says the fall flu season will likely mean more people will be touched by COVID disease and deaths.

"I have some friends that have. Not many but some." said Edna Conneally of Martinez who shared that she'd heard over social media that some former classmates had died from COVID-19.

Dr. Wachter says the mortality rate has decreased due to better understanding of COVID-19 such as clotting risks and the impact on the heart.

One factor looking ahead is whether better therapeutics will be developed to save more lives.

"We know that steroids work, we know that antiviral medicine called remdesivir work. The other medicines at our disposal aren't all that impressive," said Dr. Wachter, "None of them are game changers.

"The country is definitely going to see a surge in the fall and the question is which regions and it will be the regions that aren't as careful as others," said Dr. Wachter.

Public policies are also key to limiting any virus outbreaks, he said, noting that San Francisco has done well to keep the number of deaths below one hundred with a population over 800,000.

"If the death rate for the country were the same as San Francisco, there would have been about 30,000 deaths," said Dr. Wachter, "It just shows what can be done with the right policies and public response. We have done it and I hope we can continue doing it."

Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Jana at jana.katsuyama@foxtv.com and follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU or Facebook @NewsJana