Propelled in part by the wildly contagious omicron variant, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 hit 900,000 on Friday, less than two months after eclipsing 800,000.
The two-year total, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Indianapolis, San Francisco, or Charlotte, North Carolina.
The milestone comes more than 13 months into a vaccination drive that has been beset by misinformation and political and legal strife, though the shots have proved safe and highly effective at preventing serious illness and death.
“It is an astronomically high number. If you had told most Americans two years ago as this pandemic was getting going that 900,000 Americans would die over the next few years, I think most people would not have believed it,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
He lamented that most of the deaths happened after the vaccine gained authorization.
“We got the medical science right. We failed on the social science. We failed on how to help people get vaccinated, to combat disinformation, to not politicize this,” Jha said. “Those are the places where we have failed as America.”
President Joe Biden lamented the milestone in a statement Friday night, saying, “After nearly two years, I know that the emotional, physical, and psychological weight of this pandemic has been incredibly difficult to bear.”
He again urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots. “Two hundred and fifty million Americans have stepped up to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by getting at least one shot — and we have saved more than one million American lives as a result,” Biden said.
Just 64% of the population is fully vaccinated, or about 212 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The latest bleak milestone came as omicron is loosening its grip on the country.
New cases per day have plunged by almost a half-million since mid-January, when they hit a record-shattering peak of more than 800,000. Cases have been declining in 49 states in the last two weeks, by Johns Hopkins’ count, and the 50th, Maine, reported that confirmed infections are falling there, too, dropping sharply over the past week.