On the eve of his inauguration in January, President Joe Biden attended a somber ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 400,000 American lives lost to COVID-19.
Today, barely more than a month later, America crossed the unimaginable milestone of 500,000 deaths.
It’s a total that far surpasses early predictions by federal experts. While the U.S. only makes up 4.25% of the world’s population, it now accounts for 20 percent of the known COVID-related deaths.
Last March, in the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, projected that even with strict stay-at-home orders, the virus might kill as many as 240,000 Americans — a number that seemed unimaginable at the time.
“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Dr. Fauci said at the time.
Less than a year later, the virus has killed more than twice that number.
Five hundred thousand deaths is easier to think of as a stat than as individuals, and millions of family members that are grieving. It’s almost impossible to wrap our heads around the population of Atlanta being wiped away. Or that more Americans have died from COVID in the last year than occurred in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.
Where does 500,000 COVID deaths stack up against other causes of death in America in the last year? From the NYT:
- Three times the number of people who died in the U.S. in any kind of accident, including highway accidents, in 2019 (167,127).
- More than eight times the number of deaths from influenza and pneumonia (59,120).
- More than 10 times the number of suicides (48,344).
- More than the number of deaths from strokes, diabetes, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and related causes, combined (406,161).
- Only heart disease (655,381) and cancer (599,274) caused more deaths.
COVID-19 deaths also have disproportionately affected Americans along racial lines. The death rate for Black Americans has been almost two times higher than for white Americans. The death rate for Hispanics was 2.3 times higher than for white Americans. And for Native Americans, it was 2.4 times higher.
But the sobering milestone also comes as good news appears on the horizons. New infection rates, hospitalizations and death rates have finally started falling in the last couple of weeks.
In January, there was a peak of about 3,300 deaths a day. Yesterday, 1,900 were reported. New COVID cases have dropped 40 percent in the last two weeks. And with vaccines rolling out, there are projections that all American adults will have full access to a vaccine in the next few months.
So, as we all grapple with the weariness of having to wear masks, socially distance, work from home and not have social lives, we need to remember it’s for a greater good. A little personal sacrifice can tangibly save someone else’s life, and it’s important to remember that’s truly what’s at stake.