The nation has reached a heartbreaking milestone of 1 million confirmed deaths from COVID-19 since the coronavirus pandemic began over two years ago.
An average of over 300 people are still dying each day from COVID-19 — most of whom are unvaccinated — even as safe and effective vaccines have been available to prevent severe illness or death from the virus.
“We mark a tragic milestone: one million American lives lost to COVID-19,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Thursday, ordering flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and other federal grounds. “Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic.”
The president asked Americans to “remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible.”
Although hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 have fallen from their winter peak, new cases have begun to rise again, doubling since April, as highly contagious omicron subvariants spread across the country and hospitalizations are ticking back up.
Some 22% — or nearly 1 in 4 — people nationwide have still not gotten a single dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. About one-third — or 33% — of the population has not been fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccines or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s. And about half of people eligible for a booster — which health experts say provides the best protection against the latest variants — have not gotten theirs.
Throughout the deadly pandemic, right-wing media pundits have spread misinformation on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, and Republican lawmakers and officials have fought efforts to mandate vaccines for workers.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted in February that unvaccinated people were 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated and boosted.
Meanwhile, federal and state-level guidelines have dramatically loosened virus-related restrictions in recent months, with many states lifting mask mandates for schools and a court ruling ending a national mask mandate for planes and other travel. (The CDC still recommends masking on planes, trains and buses.)
People with disabilities have warned that the millions of Americans with chronic health conditions, including those who are immunocompromised or have heart or respiratory issues, are still vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, Black and Latinx people have faced disproportionate hospitalization and death from the virus, as these communities are overrepresented among front-line workers, in industries like agriculture or in the service sector, where employees aren’t able to work from home as the virus spreads. Black and Latinx people are more than twice as likely as white people to be hospitalized with the virus, and nearly twice as likely to die from it.