The US on Sunday stood at the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to COVID-19.
A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was about 498,000 — roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta.
The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.
“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s State of the Union.
The US COVID-19 death toll reached 400,000 on Jan. 19 in the waning hours in office for then-US president Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a singular failure.
The US was expected to pass the next grim milestone yesterday. US President Joe Biden was to mark the US crossing 500,000 lives lost from COVID-19 with a moment of silence and a candle lighting ceremony at the White House.
Biden was to deliver remarks at sunset to honor the dead, the White House said.
He was expected to be joined by first lady, Jill Biden, and US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.
The first known deaths from the virus in the US happened in early February last year, both of them in Santa Clara County, California. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just more than a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.
Joyce Willis of Las Vegas is among the countless Americans who lost family members during the pandemic. Her husband, Anthony Willis, died on Dec. 28 last year, followed by her mother-in-law early last month.
There were anxious calls from the intensive care unit when her husband was hospitalized. She was unable to see him before he died, because she, too, had the virus and could not visit.
“They are gone. Your loved one is gone, but you are still alive,” Willis said.
Despite efforts to administer COVID-19 vaccines, a widely cited model by the University of Washington projects the US death toll would surpass 589,000 by June 1.
“People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now,” Fauci said on NBC’s Meet The Press.
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