The death toll from COVID-19 in the US exceeds 500,000

Deaths from COVID-19 in the United States surpassed 500,000 on Monday, the last desolate season in a vast landscape of losses.

The number of victims is difficult to imagine. It’s as if all the people in a city the size of Atlanta or Sacramento just disappeared. The number is greater than the combined deaths on the US battlefield in both the world wars and Vietnam. Last month, based on the 24-hour average death toll, it was as if the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 happened every day.

“You see that number, and it’s not just another number,” said Bettina Gonzales, 39, whose 61-year-old father, David Gonzales, a popular soccer and basketball coach in Harlingen, Texas, died in August. “There is a lot of tragedy behind that number.”

Recorded deaths from COVID-19 in the US account for roughly one-fifth of the nearly 2.5 million known deaths from the disease worldwide, double the number in Brazil, the next worst-hit country. California alone accounts for nearly 50,000 deaths, about 10% of the nation’s total. Nearly 20,000 of them were in Los Angeles County, where about one in 500 people died.

President Biden, marking the sad milestone Monday night, urged the nation to honor the dead by observing public health measures to help end the pandemic.

“The people we lost were extraordinary. They spanned generations. Born in the United States, immigrated to the United States. But thus, many of them took their last breath alone in the United States, “he said in statements at the White House. “We have to resist becoming numb to pain. We have to resist seeing every life as a statistic. “

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with their spouses, fell silent amid 500 candles, to commemorate the 500,000 dead, placed along the steps of the South Portico. The Marine band performed “Amazing Grace”.

Poets and philosophers, and researchers in the social sciences, know that huge numbers of deaths can become abstractions. For the United States as a whole, that may be so; For those affected by individual pain, it is the opposite.

People who have lost loved ones or suffered lasting physical damage from an episode of COVID-19 sometimes speak of feeling stranded on the other side of a great chasm, away from compatriots wondering when they will be able to return to them. bars and baseball games.

Among millions of mourners, some still can hardly believe that a loved one who had survived so much else was swept away.

Ralph Hakman, a Holocaust survivor, was vigorous until the nineties. But in the early days of the pandemic, he suddenly fell ill and died on March 22, twelve days after his birthday.

“If it weren’t for COVID, I really think he would have lived over 100 years,” said his 89-year-old widow, Barbara Zerulik, who fell ill around the same time as Hakman and was diagnosed with COVID-19. Her husband was not tested for the virus, but doctors believe it killed him.

Born in Poland to an Orthodox Jewish family, Hakman survived three years in Auschwitz before emigrating to the United States. He raised two children in Beverly Hills with his first wife, also a Holocaust survivor.

“She survived such brutal hatred and violence when she was young, she was so strong,” said Zerulik, who spent months in the hospital and received rehabilitation care before moving to Jacksonville, Florida, to live with her daughter. “So this disease brought him down.”

Public figures delved into history to find parallels for these harrowing times. Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in a television interview Sunday that half a million deaths are like nothing “from what we’ve been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic. “. Deaths in the United States were then 675,000 catastrophic, though dwarfed by a global figure of 50 million.

During the past year, the pandemic left few American lives unscathed. All the ways in which society organizes itself – school and work, economy and government, friendship and family life, love and romance – have changed, in some cases irrevocably.

Ohio kindergarten teacher Holly Maxwell loved giving her little students hugs when they needed comfort. His school outside Uniontown has been teaching classes in person all year, but it only has a dozen students instead of the usual 22, and six feet of social distance is carefully observed.

That means no groups of 5-year-olds around Maxwell’s rocking chair for story time, no playing with building blocks and puzzles.

“The socio-emotional effects of this will be huge for this age group,” said Maxwell, a 48-year-old mother of two who has taught for 22 years. “They are supposed to learn to be friends, they want to play together. That hurts my heart. “

Contagion has heartbreakingly altered farewells and end-of-life mourning rituals. As David Gonzales, the Texas coach, lay dying after a month with a ventilator, nurses called his daughter, Bettina, from her hospital room on FaceTime. In the confusion, her room’s phone was against the wall and Bettina’s screen went blank.

“I could hear the chest compressions, the air rushing through his body,” he recalled. “In the end, I heard the flat line.”

Caring for the dead, so many, so many dead, has been an extraordinary burden and a sacred duty. That duty is very close to Michael Fowler, the 62-year-old coroner from Dougherty County in rural southwestern Georgia.

In her tight-knit community, mostly black, she has tended to the bodies of neighbors and relatives, closing the body bag over a familiar face.

“When so many of the dead are your friends and co-workers, it takes a toll,” he said.

Over the past year, he has pronounced 267 COVID-related deaths, answering calls in the middle of the night, taking photos, notifying family members. Sometimes families were so devastated by the disease that no one was there to give them instructions on which funeral home to use.

“It was just overwhelming,” he said. “A husband would be in the hospital on a ventilator after the death of his wife.”

During the deadliest month, April, which saw 86 deaths from COVID-19 in the county, the local morgue ran out of space and the Federal Emergency Management Agency brought in refrigerated 18-wheelers to store the bodies.

Fowler has lost so much weight that he has to button up his pants. He hasn’t had a vacation in months. He often goes to the office at night to complete paperwork, unable to sleep. But his latest duty has given him a ray of hope: notifying county residents where they can get vaccinated.

“I can see the light now,” he said. “With the vaccine and all the precautions that everyone is taking, things are going to improve a lot.”

This is not the darkest hour of the pandemic; that may already have happened. New cases in the United States have been declining for five weeks; The launch of the vaccine, despite delays and shortages, is tending to success, although it is also a race against the deadly new variants that are circulating in the US and around the world.

Over the past year, the pandemic exposed the shocking social disparities in the United States that were present from the beginning, but which the crisis revealed great relief.

Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to suffer devastating medical consequences. Economic inequalities abound, and the wealthiest Americans working from home weather the outbreak with relative ease, even as unemployment has soared to levels not seen in decades, leaving millions of American families unable to afford necessities like housing and food.

At the same time, the threat had something in common: COVID-19 has devastated crowded urban neighborhoods as well as lonely prairie towns, skipping inexorably from coast to coast.

For healthcare workers across the United States, the disease has been a ruthless attack for months, threatening their own physical and mental health as they struggled to care for others.

“There is hope, but at the same time, so much pain for all that we have lost and all that we are still going to lose,” said Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at the hospital at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. “We cannot lose sight of the hundreds of thousands of people who have left.”

The pandemic has been a singular source of distress even for those used to dealing with illness and death on a daily basis.

“The sadness, the devastation, it’s something that all of us in medicine have never seen,” said Michael White, a 46-year-old hospital physician in Phoenix, a virus outbreak in a particularly hard-hit state.

But White said sheer human stamina had sometimes astonished him. He watched the family patriarchs struggle to regain health, pregnant women affected by COVID recover and deliver their babies safely, a long-term hospitalized father keeping a promise to go home to his children.

“It gives us hope to continue providing,” he said, “and fighting this virus.”

As the disease embarked on its relentless march, the elderly were hit the hardest, with those over 65 accounting for roughly four out of every five deaths in America, and many nursing homes and assisted living facilities were devastated. But the contagion found its way across all age categories, wiping out some of the young, healthy children with a still little-known inflammatory syndrome.

Medical experts say the pandemic has indirectly claimed many thousands of lives, with undiagnosed ailments and delayed treatments.

From the first months of the outbreak, the projections of infectious disease specialists were, by definition, imperfect, because they depended on public behavior and political decisions. But over the months, the terrifying progression of the pandemic spoke for itself.

It took four months to hit the 100,000 death benchmark in May 2020. But by January 19, when the death toll reached 400,000, it only took five weeks for that number to rise to 500,000.

What everyone wants to know, of course, is when it will end.

At 52, Navajo Nation Police Officer Carolyn Tallsalt has been on the job for two decades, but said the past year had been the hardest yet.

The Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, has recorded nearly 30,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,100 deaths. Tallsalt, who patrols Tuba City, Arizona, 250 miles north of Phoenix, said she was disheartened when she saw people gathering inside homes and breaking the night curfew because they believed the threat had largely passed.

“They think, ‘Oh, things are better, there’s a vaccine,'” he said. “It is a wrong thought.”

Tallsalt hopes the terrible score of 500,000 deaths will be a reminder for all Americans to protect their health to the best of their ability.

“Let’s hope there aren’t another 100,000 deaths,” he said. “I don’t want to see 600,000.”

Staff writers King reported from Washington, Kaleem from Los Angeles and Lee from Phoenix. Staff Writers Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Brownsville, Texas; Richard Read in Scottsdale, Arizona; Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta; Emily Baumgaertner in Los Angeles and Eli Stokols in Washington contributed to this report.

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