Half a million deaths ― by far the highest death toll for any country ― is equivalent to about 1 in 650 Americans dying from a disease that’s been circulating across the nation for nearly a year. The number of deaths equals the entire population of Atlanta, Miami or Kansas City, Missouri.
“That is more Americans who have died in a single year of this pandemic than in World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind.”
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses will lead a moment of silence at the White House at sunset Monday, and they invite all Americans to participate. The president also ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff at all public buildings and grounds.
South Carolina is the latest hotbed for COVID-19, with the state reporting one of the highest case rates in recent days. In late January, it was the first place in the U.S. to report the presence of a coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, which appears to be about 50% more transmissible than earlier strains.
The disease continues to have a disproportionate effect on non-white Americans. Black, Latinx and Native American people are each around two to two and a half times as likely as white people to die from the virus.
Still, reasons for hope have emerged. The U.S. is averaging about 81,000 new cases a day, the lowest since early November. The pace of vaccinating people, which got off to a rocky start late last year, has roughly doubled in the past month.
Biden announced recently that hundreds of millions of additional vaccines were set to arrive in the U.S ahead of schedule, putting the country on course to have enough doses for nearly the entire population by July.
“That may not sound like the urgent progress we need, but let’s be clear: When I took office just three weeks ago, this country did not have a plan,” Biden said at the time, referring to the missteps in former President Donald Trump’s national response to the pandemic.