US passes grim milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths | Daily News

US passes grim milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths

Half a million US lives have been lost to Covid-19. That's more than the number of Americans killed in World War II.

The victims of this silent enemy were young and old, spanning all backgrounds and corners of the country.

President Joe Biden spoke at a candlelighting ceremony to mark the grim milestone.

"As a nation, we can't accept such a cruel fate. We've been fighting this pandemic for so long. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow," the President said. "We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic or a blur or on the news. We must do so to honor the dead, but equally important care for the living, those they left behind."

Biden also participated in a moment of silence, standing by 500 lighted candles outside the White House, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.

A flag atop the White House and flags at the US Capitol were lowered to half-staff Monday afternoon.

The pandemic is far from over as more than 1,200 American deaths were reported Monday.

But Americans can steer its course -- and help prevent many more families from suffering inconsolable grief.

As numbers of new cases and hospitalizations go down, however, reports of highly contagious variants go up.

"I am worried about this variant -- the B.1.1.7 variant (first found in the UK)," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

"If that takes over, the numbers are going to start to spiral up again. There's no end to what the death toll will look like unless we can vaccinate ahead of it."

But as the number of vaccinations slowly increase, some Americans say they won't get a Covid-19 vaccine -- hurting the chances of herd immunity and hindering a return to normal life. More than 44.1 million Americans have received at least one dose of their two-dose vaccines, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 19.4 million have been fully vaccinated. That's about 5.9% of the US population -- far less than the estimated 70% to 85% of Americans who would need to be immune to reach herd immunity.

Some states are still grappling with vaccine delays after severe weather walloped much of the country last week.

But the US will likely be caught up by the middle of this week, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Obviously it is a setback because you'd like to see the steady flow of vaccine getting out there to get into people's arms, but we can play pretty good catch-up," Fauci told NBC on Sunday. To speed up vaccinations, some experts have suggested delaying second vaccine doses to get more first doses into people's arms.

Both vaccines on the US market -- developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna -- require two doses, the second of which are intended to be administered 21 days and 28 days after the first, respectively.

Fauci told CNN Sunday the US is currently sticking with the vaccine schedule that is backed up by data from clinical trials.

"The science points directly towards continuing with what we know ... from the clinical trial," he said. Nationwide, the rates of new Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are declining.

The number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has fallen for the 40th day in a row, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Daily deaths have declined 24% this past week compared to the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, earlier Monday touted encouraging numbers in declining new cases, deaths, and hospital admissions, but also offered a note of caution.

The seven-day average of deaths reported each day is at its the lowest since the beginning of December, she said.

At a White House coronavirus task force briefing held before the death toll was updated, Walensky noted the falling death rate but said the total number of Covid-19 fatalities is "a truly tragic reminder of the enormity of this pandemic, and the loss it has afflicted on our personal lives and our communities. While the pandemic is heading in the right direction there is still much work to do."

About 1,700 cases of coronavirus variants strains first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in the US, according to the CDC.

But that figure is probably nowhere near the actual number of variant cases in the US, since the US has lagged behind dozens of other countries in genome sequencing per 1,000 Covid-19 cases.

Walensky has said the US has ramped up sequencing to find variants and will keep doing so.

The vast majority of variant cases so far involve the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the UK.

Experts with the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said over the weekend that while the B.1.1.7 strain likely accounts for less than 20% of current infections in the US, that number will likely soar to 80% by late April.