Miami Herald

U.S. tops 500,000 deaths; Bi­den: Re­sist be­ing numb

- BY HEATHER HOLLINGSWO­RTH AND TAMMY WEB­BER Health · United States of America · Joe Biden · South Korea · Vietnam · Joe · White House · Johns Hopkins University · University of Washington · Philadelphia Union · University of Miami · Kentucky · Lexington · Lexington · Kansas · U.S. Centers for Disease Control · Executive Office of the President of the United States · Hopkins · Stanton · Hutchinson, KS · Hutchinson

■ ‘We have to re­sist be­com­ing numb to the sor­row,’ Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said. ‘We have to re­sist view­ing each life as a statis­tic or a blur.’

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 on Mon­day, a stag­ger­ing num­ber that all but matches the num­ber of Amer­i­cans killed in World War II, Korea and Viet­nam com­bined.

Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den held a sun­set mo­ment of si­lence and a can­dle-light­ing cer­e­mony at the White House and or­dered Amer­i­can flags low­ered at fed­eral build­ings for the next five days.

“We have to re­sist be­com­ing numb to the sor­row,” Bi­den said. “We have to re­sist view­ing each life as a statis­tic or a blur.”

Ad­dress­ing the “grim, heart­break­ing mile­stone” di­rectly and pub­licly, Bi­den stepped to a lectern in the White House Cross Hall, un­hooked his mask and de­liv­ered an emo­tion-filled eu­logy for more than 500,000 Amer­i­cans he said he felt he knew.

“We of­ten hear peo­ple de­scribed as or­di­nary Amer­i­cans. There’s no such thing,” he said Mon­day evening. “There’s noth­ing or­di­nary about them. The peo­ple we lost were ex­tra­or­di­nary.”

“Just like that,” he added, “so many of them took their last breath alone.”

A pres­i­dent whose own life has been marked by fam­ily tragedy, Bi­den spoke in deeply per­sonal terms, ref­er­enc­ing his own losses as he tried to com­fort the huge num­ber of Amer­i­cans whose lives have been for­ever changed by the pan­demic.

“I know all too well. I know what it’s like to not be there when it hap­pens,” said Bi­den, who has long ad­dressed grief more pow­er­fully than per­haps any other Amer­i­can pub­lic fig­ure. “I know what it’s like when you are there, hold­ing their hands, 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 pres­i­dent, who lost his first wife and baby daugh­ter in a car col­li­sion and later an adult son to brain can­cer, leav­ened the grief with a mes­sage of hope.

“This na­tion will smile again. This na­tion will know sunny days again. This na­tion will know joy again. And as we do, we'll re­mem­ber each per­son we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left be­hind.”

The half-mil­lion mile­stone, as recorded by Johns Hop­kins University, comes as states re­dou­ble ef­forts to get the coron­avirus vac­cine into arms af­ter last week’s win­ter weather closed clin­ics, slowed vac­cine de­liv­er­ies and forced tens of thou­sands of peo­ple to miss their shots.

De­spite the roll­out of vac­cines since mid-De­cem­ber, a closely watched model from the University of Wash­ing­ton projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the high­est re­ported in the world, ac­count­ing for 20% of the nearly 2.5 mil­lion coron­avirus deaths glob­ally, though the true num­bers are thought to be sig­nif­i­cantly greater, in part, be­cause many cases were over­looked, es­pe­cially early in the out­break.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. were in early Fe­bru­ary 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 deaths. The toll hit 200,000 in Septem­ber and 300,000 in De­cem­ber, then took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and an­other month to climb from 400,000 to 500,000.

The U.S. recorded an es­ti­mated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Viet­nam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.

Av­er­age daily deaths and cases have plum­meted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 re­ported on some days in Jan­uary to an av­er­age of fewer than 1,900 per day.

But ex­perts warn that dan­ger­ous vari­ants could cause the trend to re­verse it­self. And some ex­perts say not enough Amer­i­cans have been in­oc­u­lated yet for the vac­cine to be mak­ing much of a dif­fer­ence.

In­stead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been at­trib­uted to the pass­ing of the hol­i­days; the cold and bleak days of mid­win­ter, when many peo­ple stay home; and bet­ter ad­her­ence to mask rules and so­cial dis­tanc­ing.

Dr. Ryan Stan­ton, an emer­gency-room physi­cian in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, who has treated scores of COVID-19 pa­tients, said he never thought the U.S. deaths would be so high.

“I was one of those early ones that thought this may be some­thing that may hit us for a cou­ple months. … I def­i­nitely thought we would be done with it be­fore we got into the fall. And I def­i­nitely didn’t see it head­ing off into 2021,” Stan­ton said.

Kristy Sourk, an in­ten­sive-care nurse at Hutchinson Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Hutchinson, Kansas, said she is en­cour­aged by the de­clin­ing caseload and progress in vac­ci­nat­ing peo­ple, but “I know we are so far from over.”

Peo­ple “are still dy­ing, and fam­i­lies are still iso­lated from their loved ones who are un­able to be with them so that is still pretty heart-wrench­ing,” she said.

Snow, ice and weath­er­re­lated power out­ages closed some vac­ci­na­tion sites and held up ship­ments across a large swath of the na­tion, in­clud­ing in the Deep South.

As a re­sult, the sev­en­day rolling av­er­age of ad­min­stered first doses fell by 20 per­cent be­tween Feb. 14 and Feb. 21, ac­cord­ing to data from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

The White House said that about a third of the roughly 6 mil­lion vac­cine doses de­layed by bad weather were de­liv­ered over the week­end, with the rest ex­pected to be de­liv­ered by mid-week, sev­eral days ear­lier than orig­i­nally ex­pected. White House coron­avirus re­sponse co­or­di­na­tor Andy Slavitt on Mon­day at­trib­uted the im­proved time­line to an “all-out, round-the-clock” ef­fort over the week­end that in­cluded em­ploy­ees at one vac­cine dis­trib­u­tor work­ing night shifts to pack vac­cines.

 ?? ALEX WONG Getty Images ?? From left, Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, first lady Jill Bi­den, Vice Pres­i­dent Ka­mala Har­ris and her hus­band, Doug Emhoff, par­tic­i­pate in a mo­ment of si­lence at sun­down on the South Por­tico of the White House on Mon­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to honor the more than 500,000 peo­ple who have been killed by COVID-19 in the U.S.
ALEX WONG Getty Images From left, Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, first lady Jill Bi­den, Vice Pres­i­dent Ka­mala Har­ris and her hus­band, Doug Emhoff, par­tic­i­pate in a mo­ment of si­lence at sun­down on the South Por­tico of the White House on Mon­day in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to honor the more than 500,000 peo­ple who have been killed by COVID-19 in the U.S.
 ?? EVAN VUCCI AP ?? Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said Mon­day: ‘This na­tion will smile again. This na­tion will know sunny days again. This na­tion will know joy again. And as we do, we’ll re­mem­ber each per­son we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left be­hind.’
EVAN VUCCI AP Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said Mon­day: ‘This na­tion will smile again. This na­tion will know sunny days again. This na­tion will know joy again. And as we do, we’ll re­mem­ber each per­son we’ve lost, the lives they lived, the loved ones they left be­hind.’

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