The United States on Tuesday passed a milestone that once seemed unimaginable: 1 million COVID-19 deaths.
According to the Johns Hopkins University, 1,000,004 Americans have died of complications from the coronavirus, and there are more than 82 million confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19 to date.
President Biden issued a statement last week preemptively marking the staggering number of American lives lost.
“One million empty chairs around the dinner table,” he said Thursday. “Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic.”
The president also issued a proclamation ordering flags to be flown at half-staff at the White House and on all public buildings and grounds in memory of the dead.
U.S. health officials then expressed hope that the nation was at an “inflection point.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease director and Biden’s chief medical adviser, went as far as declaring that the U.S. was “out of the pandemic phase.” He later clarified those remarks.
The death toll is especially staggering when you consider what Americans thought it would be at the start of the pandemic. According to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted on March 11, 2020, 88% predicted that the U.S. death toll — then at 28 — would never top 10,000.
In April 2020, then-President Donald Trump said the projected number of American deaths related to the coronavirus would be “substantially under” 100,000 people.
“It looks like we’ll be at about a 60,000 mark,” Trump said on April 19, 2020. The U.S. passed 100,000 coronavirus deaths a month later.
In February 2021, shortly after he took office, Biden addressed the nation from the White House after the U.S. surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.
“As we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived,” Biden said. “They’re people we knew. They’re people we feel like we knew.”
The availability of COVID-19 vaccines that spring brought hope, and by the summer of 2021 the number of new cases and deaths declined. Last July, Biden delivered an Independence Day speech in which he all but declared victory over COVID-19.
“We are emerging from the darkness of years, a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain, fear and heartbreaking loss,” he said. “Today, we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.”
But the emergence of the highly contagious Delta and Omicron variants, combined with the reluctance of a large swath of Americans to get vaccinated, set back that declaration indefinitely.
There’s also reason to believe that the true death toll from COVID-19 is far greater than the reported figures. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization released new estimates showing that nearly 15 million people in the world have died as a result of the pandemic — or roughly three times more than the number of coronavirus deaths officially reported.
“Now is the time for us to act — all of us, together,” Biden said during the opening of the Global COVID-19 Summit at the White House last week. “We all must do more. We must honor those we have lost by doing everything we can to prevent as many deaths as possible.”
Earlier Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.