As Americans gather to celebrate the end of another particularly difficult year, many loved ones will notably be absent from the holiday celebrations, a stark reminder of the tragic realities of the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States reached another staggering milestone on Tuesday, with 800,000 Americans now confirmed to be lost to the coronavirus, according to recently updated data from Johns Hopkins University.
“This will be a defining tragedy for our generation,” David Dowdy, infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told ABC News. “We’ve gotten to the point where our eyes are fixed on these numbers. But now almost every one of us knows someone who has died of COVID-19.”
The sobering marker comes less than two years after the start of the pandemic, and despite the introduction of the first coronavirus vaccines almost a year ago.
âAs we mark the tragic milestone of 800,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19, we remember each person and the life they have lived, and we pray for loved ones left behind. I know what it’s just staring at an empty chair around the kitchen table, especially during the holiday season, and my heart aches for every family that goes through this pain, âPresident Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday night. “To heal, we must remember. We must also act. This is exactly what we have been doing for the past 11 months.”
He praised the vaccines and said that right now 200 million Americans are fully immunized and many are being boosted every day.
“I urge all Americans: do your patriotic duty to keep our country safe, to protect yourself and those around you, and to honor the memory of all we have lost. The time is right,” Biden said.
Half a million lives lost since last December
When the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered last December, many Americans hoped the injections would herald a return to normalcy. However, since last December, an additional 500,000 Americans have died from the virus. Of these, just under half – 230,000 – have lost their lives since April 2021, when President Biden announced that the vaccine was now widely available to all Americans over the age of 18.
“The vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented,” said Dr. John Brownstein, epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and contributor to ABC News. “Despite the availability of vaccines, we have recorded nearly half a million deaths since the first shots were fired last December.”
Americans in every state, city and town have felt the personal impact and ripple effect of the virus.
An analysis tracing the wide scope of COVID-19 parentage loss with a bereavement multiplier, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated that 7.2 million family members could mourn the loss of a be loved by the virus.
The staggering number of deaths from COVID-19 now exceeds the 700,000 Americans who have died from AIDS-related illnesses over the past four decades. It is higher than the total number of American soldiers killed in action since 1900, and about the same as the population of North Dakota. The United States has also recorded more deaths – and cases – than any other country in the world.
âEvery two minutes in this country, for almost two years now, this story has been repeating itself. By the time you finish reading this [story], someone else will have died from this disease, âDowdy said.
Although the death rate is significantly lower than it was at the country’s peak last January, on average, more than 1,000 Americans are still reported lost to the virus every day.
“[The average] is more than double the rate of most countries in places like Europe, even though they have more cases than we do. It’s a permanent failure of our company, âsaid Dowdy.
Some experts believe the current death toll from COVID-19 could potentially be vastly underestimated, due to inconsistent reporting by states and localities, and the exclusion of excess deaths, a measure of the number of lives lost beyond what would be expected if the pandemic had not occurred.
“This pandemic is clearly not over”
At the start of the pandemic, even the highest death toll projections seemed unimaginable.
Studies have found the virus to be present in the United States, potentially as early as December 2019, although widespread transmission likely did not occur until late February 2020, experts say.
The death toll from COVID-19 is now eight times what former President Donald Trump once said at the start of the pandemic.
âThe minimum number was 100,000 lives, and I think we will be significantly below that numberâ¦ So we’ll see what that ends up being, but it looks like we’re heading towards a number well below 100,000,â Trump said in April 2020.
Forecasts predict that as the United States faces yet another winter viral resurgence, it is possible that thousands more lives will be lost before the end of 2021.
Experts say a confluence of factors, such as vaccine reluctance, cold, relaxed restrictions, the highly transmissible delta variant, and the impact of declining vaccine immunity over time have all contributed to the increase in the death toll.
âThis pandemic is clearly not over,â UMass Memorial Health Care president and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson told ABC News. “It really is the most difficult time in this whole pandemic right now for some of us.”
Although 60% of Americans are currently fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 million Americans are still unvaccinated and therefore are at risk of infection, serious illness and death. .
Now, with new concerns about the omicron variant, health experts are urging Americans to get boosted ASAP. According to the CDC, about 50 million people – 25% of Americans who are fully vaccinated – have received an additional dose of the vaccine.
According to federal data compiled in September 2021, unvaccinated individuals were 5.8 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and 14 times more likely to die from it.
Although the mask is mandatory on all forms of public transport across the country, restrictions related to COVID-19 have become rare, with few jurisdictions now requiring face coverings or social distancing.
“Vaccine resistance coupled with a rapid return to normal life has come at the cost of a tragic loss of life,” Brownstein said.
The remainder of the upcoming winter break also continues to be a major concern for experts, after many communities saw an increase in cases and hospitalizations after Thanksgiving.
âAlthough so many have done their part, we still have tens of millions of eligible people who have yet to recognize the enormous loss of life that can be avoided through the benefits of immunization. This division means that our devastating march towards a million lives lost becomes even more certain, âsaid Brownstein.