On Sunday, the United States officially surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The grim milestone arrives just weeks before March 11th. That date marks one year since the outbreak was declared a pandemic. When the virus was first discovered in China towards the end of 2019, the Trump administration severely underestimated the ferocity of the disease, which quickly spread to the U.S. and other parts of the world.
In the early months of the pandemic, major cities such as Chicago and New York were hit the hardest. Nursing homes and factories saw their residents’ and employees’ death skyrocket as scientists raced to contain the deadly outbreak.
This milestone follows a fall and winter surge in cases. There were 81,000 reported deaths in December and 95,000 in January. This surge was partially due to the busy holiday season, where people elected to travel to see family.
On Monday, President Joe Biden encouraged citizens to remember those we have lost to COVID-19 as the country moves towards collective healing. To remember those who perished, he has also ordered the American flag to be flown at half-staff on federal grounds until Friday.
“As of this week during the dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 500,000 Americans have now died from the virus,” his statement read. “On this solemn occasion, we reflect on their loss and on their loved ones left behind. We, as a nation, must remember them so we can begin to heal, to unite, and find purpose as one nation to defeat this pandemic.”
Health officials are now racing to speed up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which has gotten off to a slow and unorganized start. Roughly 44 million people, which is about 13% of the population, have received at least one dose of either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s two-shot vaccines.
COVID-19 now sits among one of the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the CDC.