The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as the vaccination drive has drastically brought down daily cases and fatalities and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom and look forward to summer.
As recorded by Johns Hopkins University, the number of lives lost is greater than the population of Baltimore or Milwaukee. It is about equal to the number of Americans who died of cancer in 2019. Worldwide, the COVID-19 death toll stands at about 3.8 million.
The milestone came the same day that California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could be a fun and close to typical summer for many Americans.
“Deep down, I want to rejoice,” said Rita Torres, a retired university administrator in Oakland, California. But she plans to take it slow: “Because it’s kind of like, is it too soon? Will we be sorry?”
With the vaccine’s arrival in mid-December, COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. have plummeted to an average of around 340, from a high of over 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at about 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day over the winter.
President Joe Biden acknowledged the upcoming milestone Monday during his visit to Europe, saying that while new cases and deaths are dropping dramatically in the U.S., “there are still too many lives being lost,” and “now is not the time to let our guard down. The most recent deaths are seen in some ways as especially tragic now that the vaccine has become available practically for the asking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of Americans have had at least one dose of vaccine, while over 40% are fully vaccinated.