President Joe Biden has addressed the nation as the US marks 500,000 deaths from Covid-19, the highest toll of any country in the world.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow,” he said.
The president and vice-president, and their spouses, then observed a moment of silence outside the White House during a candle-lighting ceremony.
More than 28.1 million Americans have been infected — another global record.
“Today I ask all Americans to remember. Remember those we lost and remember those we left behind,” President Biden said, calling for Americans to fight Covid together.
How did Biden mark the occasion?
Mr Biden ordered all flags on federal property to be lowered to half mast for the next five days.
At the White House, he opened his speech by noting that the number of American deaths from Covid was higher than the death toll from World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined.
What 500,000 US deaths look like
“Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone — 500,071 dead,” he said.
“We often hear people described as ordinary Americans,” he went on to say. “There’s no such thing, there’s nothing ordinary about them. The people we lost were extraordinary. They span generations. Born in America, emigrated to America.”
“So many of them took their final breath alone in America,” he continued.
He drew on his own experience with grief — his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972 and one of his sons died from brain cancer in 2015.
“For me, the way through sorrow and grief is to find purpose,” he said.
Mr Biden’s approach to the pandemic is different to his predecessor Donald Trump, who cast doubt on the impact of the deadly virus and was viewed as having politicised the wearing of masks and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
On 19 January, one day before Mr Biden took office, he held an event to mark 400,000 Americans dying of the disease.
Monday’s event, marking the latest death toll, comes about one month later.
Elsewhere in Washington, the bells at the National Cathedral tolled 500 times, once for every thousand Americans lost during the pandemic.
What’s happening in the US?
The number of Americans who have had coronavirus is nearly double that of second-highest India (11 million) and Brazil (10.1 million). Brazil has recorded the second-largest death toll at 244,000 while Mexico is in third with 178,000.
“People decades from now are going to be talking about this as a terribly historic milestone in the history of this country, to have these many people to have died from a respiratory-borne infection,” the nation’s top immunologist, Dr Anthony Fauci, told CNN on Sunday.
“It is an astonishing number. A year ago I could not have imagined that half a million Americans would lose their lives to this disease,” said Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the school of public health at Brown University.
Covid world map: Where have the 111m cases been?
“We have so much capability, so many resources in this country… this was all preventable and should not have happened. And yet here we are,” he told BBC News on Monday. “And I think we have to reflect on all the ways in which our response went wrong.”
At least 90,000 more Americans are expected to have died with the virus by 1 June, according to a recent projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
The IHME estimates that by late May, the virus will kill around 500 Americans per day — down from approximately 2,000 daily deaths now.
Hospital admission rates have fallen for 40 straight days, as approximately 1.6 million vaccinations are administered to Americans daily. But experts are still very concerned about the growing number of coronavirus variants in the country, which could spark new deadly outbreaks.
Despite the improving figures, Americans’ life expectancy has dropped by one full year due to the coronavirus, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week. The change has been most acute among racial minorities, who have been disproportionally affected by the deadly virus.
Black men suffered the largest decline, with life expectancy dropping by three years between January and June 2020.
And Hispanic men saw a fall in life expectancy of 2.4 years during that period.
The US has topped over 500,000 deaths in the Covid-19 pandemic.
It will be the latest grim milestone for a country that has by far the highest death toll in the world from the virus.
The US has seen more than twice as many deaths as the next hardest-hit country, Brazil.
But it is also one of the most populous countries.
In terms of deaths per 100,000 population, it ranks ninth, behind countries like the UK, Czech Republic, Italy and Portugal, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The first known US death from the virus came on 6 February 2020.
That means half a million lives have been lost in just over one year, more than the US death tolls from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.
To put that into perspective…
If every death came from the city of Atlanta, nearly its entire population would be wiped out.
If you held a minute’s silence consecutively for every person who has died from Covid in the US, it would take 347 days, almost a full year, to honour them all.
The death toll equals the total crowd from four days of the Coachella Music Festival, one of the biggest annual music gatherings in the US.
And it is nearly five times the attendance at the most highly attended Super Bowl ever — at the Rose Bowl in California, in 1977 (103,985)
Death came in three waves
The first wave in the spring began as most of the country went into lockdown and was followed by a second albeit less severe wave in the period from late summer to early autumn.
A devastating third surge over the past three months had communities reeling over the holidays.
How does Covid compare with cancer?
It is among the leading causes of death in the US.
Last year, it was the third leading cause of death overall, with only heart disease and cancer claiming more US lives.
At times, most notably during the third wave of cases, it spiked higher than both heart disease and cancer.
The death toll in the US is more than 10 times higher than the number of Americans who died from influenza and pneumonia the year before the pandemic.
Life expectancy in the US fell by a full year in the first half of 2020, a change experts say was fuelled by the pandemic.
The life expectancy for the entire population dropped to 77.8 years, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control.
Taking a closer look at the 500,000
Covid-19 spared no part of the country.
At the start of the pandemic, it was largely concentrated in a few large cities with diverse communities of colour, like New York and Detroit.
But towards the end of last year, some of the least populated US states — including North and South Dakota — saw some of the worst outbreaks, not just in America, but in the world.
Racial minorities — except for Asian Americans — were more likely to die of the virus than white Americans. Black people in particular have been the hardest hit, dying at 1.4 times the rate of white people.
Indigenous communities in particular were the hardest hit per capita.
Data suggests these racial disparities are often informed by community-level social factors, such as a higher likelihood that people of colour may work in essential occupations, rely on public transport and live in crowded housing.