More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest reported toll of any country.
The catastrophic US figure comes as some signs of hope are emerging in the world’s hardest-hit country, with millions of people now vaccinated and winter’s massive spike in infections dropping.
Still, the grim threshold was reached only about a month after the US recorded 400,000 fatalities from the disease in mid-January, with cases now on the decline but deaths continuing to mount.
The toll, 500,071, is more than double the number in absolute terms of reported deaths in Brazil, which has the world’s second highest.
President Joe Biden marked the unwelcome milestone with an address to the American people at 6pm, local time.
“Today we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead,” he said.
“That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined. That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on earth.
“But as we acknowledge the scale of this mass death in America, we remember each person and the life they lived.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate. While we have been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic, or a blur.
“We must do so to honour the dead, but equally important, to care for the living. For the loved ones left behind.
“I know all too well. I know what it’s like to not be there when it happens. I know what it’s like when you are there, holding their hand, as they look in your eye and they slip away.
“That black hole in your chest, you feel like you’re being sucked into it. The survivor’s remorse, the anger, the questions of faith in your soul.
“To those who have lost loved ones, this is what I know. They’re never truly gone. They’ll always be part of your heart. It seems unbelievable, but I promise you, a day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before a tear to your eye. It will come, I promise you.
“That’s when you know you’re going to be OK.”
Mr Biden said in his own experience, the key to moving on from grief was to find “purpose”.
“As we all remember, I also ask us to act. To remain vigilant. So stay socially distanced, to mask up, get vaccinated when it’s your turn. We must end the politics and misinformation that’s divided families and communities in the country, and cost too many lives already,” the President said.
“It’s not Democrats and Republicans who are dying from the virus. It’s our fellow Americans. Our neighbours, our friends, our mothers, our fathers, our sons, our daughters, husbands, wives. We have to fight this together, as one people.
“We can do this.”
Mr Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a moment of silence for the victims of the virus after his speech.
Yesterday, as the 500,000 mark loomed, Dr Anthony Fauci appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press and spoke frankly about the scale of the loss the US had suffered.
“It’s terrible. It is historic. We haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza,” Dr Fauci said.
After the first COVID-19 death was announced in the US in February 2020 it took about three months to pass the 100,000 mark, during a first wave that hit New York particularly hard.
It took another four months to reach 200,000 fatalities, and just under three more months to reach 300,000.
Cases surged into the winter season which brought people indoors for holiday gatherings. The total reported number of known infections was over 28 million on Monday.
But deaths are still coming, and Mr Biden last month warned that “well over” 600,000 people in the US could die from the virus.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 61 million people have received at least one shot of vaccine in the United States, with some 18 million getting the full two doses.
Mr Biden has made it a priority to get 100 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of his administration.
Mr Biden last week said the program to deliver vaccines into people’s arms is as complicated as the already intense challenges of manufacturing them in huge quantities at speed.
But he said his 100-million-shot goal is on track to be easily surpassed, with a current average of 1.7 million vaccinations a day.
Mr Biden said he did not want to give firm predictions of when the crisis will be curbed, but said that 600 million doses — enough to provide the two-dose regimen to most of the country — were expected to be ready by the end of July.
The president is expected to speak on Monday, local time, about the latest toll, and he is to be joined by Vice-President Kamala Harris at sunset for a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony.
Though concern has grown over variants of the virus, especially those that appear to spread more easily and render current shots less potent, officials sounded a hopeful note on curbing the virus.
“For those of us in the administration, the occasion makes us more determined to turn the tide on COVID-19 so the losses can subside and the healing can begin,” White House coronavirus Adviser Andy Slavitt said.
“Today alone, we plan to deliver seven million (vaccine) doses,” he added on Monday.