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WATCH: President Biden speaks as US tops 500,000 COVID-19 deaths

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WASHINGTON (News Nation Now/ AP) – The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, all but matching the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, are about equal to the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and greater than that of Miami; Raleigh, North Carolina; or Omaha, Nebraska.

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.

Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff led a national moment of silence at sundown from the White House. They each lit a candle to mark the half-million deaths.

Biden says it’s a “truly grim, heartbreaking milestone.”

Biden is urging Americans to resist becoming “numb to the sorrow” and “viewing each life as a statistic.” He says the people lost were “extraordinary.”

Biden also touched on the personal tragedy he’s experienced in losing his first wife and baby daughter in a car collision, and later losing an adult son to brain cancer.

Biden tells the nation’s he knows it’s hard but that “to heal, we must remember.”

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million coronavirus deaths globally, though 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. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day. 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 U.S. 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.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

“The president felt it was important to mark the lives lost over the past year and that’s the purpose of tonight,” Psaki said during an afternoon press briefing. “Tonight is not the night to give advice to the public or give an update on progress being made.”

Biden also ordered all flags on federal property to be flown at half staff for the next five days.

New figures from the White House show the steady increase in the pace of vaccinations over President Joe Biden’s first month in office.

Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose of the approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

Biden is on track to beat his goal of 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office — though the pace must pick up even further to meet his plans to vaccinate nearly all adults by the end of the summer.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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