A unprecedented figure that all but equals the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined, the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday.
At the White House, President Joe Biden arranged a sunset moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony and ordered American flags to be lowered for the next five days at federal buildings.
Biden said, “We must resist becoming numb to sorrow.” “We have to resist seeing every single life as a statistic or a blur.”
As reported by Johns Hopkins University, the half-million milestone comes as states redouble efforts to bring the coronavirus vaccine into their arms after the winter weather closed clinics last week, delayed vaccine deliveries, and caused tens of thousands of people to miss their vaccines.
A closely watched model from the University of Washington predicts more than 589,000 deaths by June 1, considering the rollout of vaccines since mid-December.
The U.S. toll is by far the world’s highest recorded, accounting for 20 percent of the world’s nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths, although the actual figures are believed to be considerably higher, partly because many cases, particularly early in the epidemic, were missed.
In early February 2020, the first recorded deaths from the virus were in the U.S. The first 100,000 deaths took four months to hit. It took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and another month to ascend from 400,000 to 500,000. The toll reached 200,000 in September and 300,000 in December.
In World War II, the U.S. reported an estimated 405,000 casualties, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.
In the past couple of weeks, average daily deaths and cases have plunged. Virus deaths have declined to an average of less than 1,900 per day from more than 4,000 recorded on some days in January.
Experts, however, warn that dangerous variants might cause the trend to reverse itself. And some researchers claim that not enough Americans have been inoculated yet to make a major difference to the vaccine.
Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been due to the passing of the holidays; the cold and gloomy midwinter days when many people stay home; and greater adherence to the laws of masking and social distance.
Dr. Ryan Stanton, a Lexington, Kentucky, emergency room physician who has treated dozens of patients with COVID-19, said he never thought U.S. deaths would be so high.
I was one of the early ones who felt it could be something that might reach us for a few months… Before we got into the fall, I certainly figured we would be done with it. And I certainly didn’t see it going into 2021,’ said Stanton.
Kristy Sourk, an intensive care nurse at the Hutchinson Regional Medical Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, said she was motivated by the decreasing caseload and improvement in the vaccination of individuals, but “I know we are so far from over.”
“People are still dying, and families are still isolated from their loved ones who can’t be with them, so it’s still pretty heart-wrenching,” she said.
Power outages due to snow, ice and weather closed several vaccination sites and held up shipments across a wide portion of the country, including in the Deep South.
As a result, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seven-day rolling average of first administered doses fell by 20 percent between Feb. 14 and Feb. 21.
The White House reported that about a third of the approximately 6 million doses of vaccine delayed by bad weather were shipped over the weekend, with the remainder scheduled to be delivered a few days earlier than originally expected by mid-week. On Monday, White House coronavirus response coordinator Andy Slavitt attributed the strengthened timetable to a “all-out, round-the-clock” initiative over the weekend that included workers working night shifts to pack vaccines at one vaccine distributor.
In Louisiana, state health officials said several doses were shipped over the weekend from last week’s shipments and were expected to continue arriving through Wednesday. Last week’s supplies arrived Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. And in Nashville, Tennessee, after days of treacherous weather, health officials were able to vaccinate more than 2,300 senior citizens and educators over the weekend.
Mary Pettersch, an 80-year-old retiree from Overland Park, Kansas, who is spending the winter in Palmhurst, Texas, with her 83-year-old husband, anticipated that the second dose they were expected to receive on Tuesday would be postponed due to the harsh weather last week.
Monday, she made some calls to health authorities, but they were not answered. Even, she didn’t think too much.
“Oh, I’d like to get it, but I’m going to get it back home if I can’t get it here,” she said, adding that in April she’s returning to Kansas. “At 80, you’re no longer frustrated,” she said.
This week, certain hospitals, clinics, community sites and pharmacies that are in the vaccine network in Louisiana will receive double dosage allocations, just as Gov. John Bel Edwards begins providing shots for some preexisting conditions to teachers, daycare staff, pregnant women and individuals aged 55 to 64.
After being forced to miss arranging tens of thousands of appointments last week, New York City officials planned to catch up on vaccinations, the mayor said Monday.
“That basically means we’ve lost a full week of our vaccination efforts,” said DeBlasio.
According to the CDC, more than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and around 1.6 million have received either the first or second dose every day over the past seven days.
If health regulators approve a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, the nation’s supply could greatly increase.
The company said that if it gets the green light, it would be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses by the end of March and will have the potential to provide the U.S. with 100 million vaccine doses by the end of June.
That supply will help government officials meet the target of providing ample injections later this year to vaccinate most adult Americans. On a global scale, this year the organisation is planning to generate 1 billion doses.
Ahead of a congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply, J&J revealed the statistics in written testimony. Last week, White House officials warned that initial stocks of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.
The safety and efficacy of the shot is still being evaluated by U.S. health authorities, and a decision to approve its emergency use is expected later this week.
In the U.S., the J&J vaccine will be the first that only involves a single shot. Two doses spaced several weeks apart require the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.