The United States’ Covid-19 death toll has now surpassed 500,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The lives lost all but match the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.
And despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.
The US toll is by far the highest reported in the world, and the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater, in part because of the many cases that were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.
Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks, but experts warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself.
Some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference. Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people are inclined to stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.
The first known deaths from the virus in the US happened in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead.
The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.
At other moments of epic loss, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans have pulled together to confront crisis and console survivors. But this time, the nation is deeply divided.
Staggering numbers of families are dealing with death, serious illness and financial hardship. And many are left to cope in isolation, unable even to hold funerals. “In a way, we’re all grieving,” said Schuurman, who has counselled the families of those killed in terrorist attacks, natural disasters and school shootings.
Many Americans assumed that federal and state governments would marshal a comprehensive and sustained response to the coronavirus pandemic and individual Americans would heed warnings.
Instead, a push to reopen the economy last spring and the refusal by many to maintain social distancing and wear face masks fuelled the spread. The figures alone do not come close to capturing the heartbreak.
“I never once doubted that he was not going to make it… I so believed in him and my faith,” said Nancy Espinoza, whose husband, Antonio, was hospitalised with Covid-19 last month. The couple from Riverside County, California, had been together since high school.
On January 25, Espinoza was called to Antonio’s bedside just before his heart beat its last. He was 36 and left behind a 3-year-old son. “Today it’s us. And tomorrow it could be anybody,” Espinoza said.
By late last fall, 54 percent of Americans reported knowing someone who had died of Covid-19 or had been hospitalised with it, according to a Pew Research Centre poll.
In Boise, Idaho, Cindy Pollock began planting tiny flags across her yard started the memorial— one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by Covid-19 — to counter what she saw as widespread denial of the threat.
When deaths spiked in December, she was planting 25 to 30 new flags at a time. But her frustration has been eased somewhat by those who slow or stop to pay respect or to mourn.
“I think that is part of what I was wanting, to get people talking,” she said,
“Not just like, ‘Look at how many flags are in the yard today compared to last month,’ but trying to help people who have lost loved ones talk to other people.”
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