On Sunday, roughly one year since the first American died from COVID-19, the United States surpassed 500,000 coronavirus deaths, according to a tally from NBC News.
The devastating half-a-million mark comes at a complicated time during the pandemic. The nation has lost 100,000 lives to the virus since January 19, and has lost almost 2,000 lives per day over the past week. Though the U.S. represents just 5 percent of the world’s population, its coronavirus losses make up a little over 20 percent of the global total. Still, daily cases have plummeted over the past two weeks and hospitalizations are almost half of what they were at their peak in early January — metrics which ensure that deaths will continue to fall in the coming weeks.
And while the historic vaccination effort continues to face roadblocks, there have been major successes: The United States has now vaccinated over 60 percent of those older than 75, and close to half of those between 65 and 74, a focus on the COVID-vulnerable that will also help to keep cases and hospitalizations down for the long run. According to a tracker run by Bloomberg News, an average of 1.32 million vaccinations were administered each day last week. And the CDC reports that over 61 million shots have now been given out, with close around 5.47 percent of the nation fully vaccinated.
“I have rarely offered words of optimism,” Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Washington Post this weekend. “But I have been watching the numbers, and I’m beginning to feel optimistic.”
However, the staggering death toll, deep racial inequalities in vaccine access, and the monumental cases still being reported every day — daily cases and hospitalizations are both above their height during the spring and summer surges — are a reminder that the pandemic is far from over. As Dr. Anthony Fauci put it on Meet the Press this weekend, that decline is “really terrific,” but “want to get that baseline really, really low before we start thinking that we’re out of the woods.”