“It’s a very sad and tragic landmark to reach the point of a million deaths in this really extraordinary experience that we’ve all gone through over the last two and a half years,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told GBH News’s “Boston Public Radio.” “Hopefully, the enormity of that number would spur us on to do whatever we can to make sure that we don’t have as bad a time in the coming months and years.”
The staggering number of deaths due to COVID-19 is now equivalent to the population of San Jose, California — the tenth largest city in the U.S.
One million Americans have now died from the coronavirus, according to an announcement made Thursday by President Joe Biden, marking a long-dreaded milestone for an incomprehensible tragedy.
“Today, we mark a tragic milestone: one million American lives lost to COVID-19. One million empty chairs around the dinner table. Each an irreplaceable loss. Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic. Jill and I pray for each of them,” Biden said in a statement. “As a nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow. To heal, we must remember.”
The president plans to order flags to half-staff in remembrance.
Over the last two years, the deadly virus has kept the nation tightly in its clutch, with wave after wave of the virus washing over with only relatively brief respites in between.
“This unthinkable tragedy will forever appear in the history books,” said John Brownstein, Ph.D. an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor.
The loss of 1 million lives is a reality that is still difficult for many to comprehend, and to accept. In some respects, the death toll remains hidden from view.
Experts said the statistic, however massive, does not fully capture the magnitude of the human tragedy.
“It’s one thing to talk about numbers, but then to realize that each one of those numbers represents a grandparent or a spouse or someone with their own unique story that we’ve lost. Already over a million of those stories in you know, in this country alone — it really is a tragedy and a tragedy, in many ways, of unprecedented proportions,” Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told ABC News.
But the impact of the deaths extends far beyond the total number of deaths. An analysis published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 9 million family members — mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and children — may be grieving the loss of a loved one killed by the virus.
“If you were to tell people that an American city had been wiped off the face of the earth, people would be shocked and horrified. But since this has been a kind of a gradual burn over two years, we’ve gotten so used to hearing the headlines and so tired of having to deal with a pandemic. That sense of horror and devastation has been lost,” Dowdy said.
COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2021, following heart disease and cancer, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to ABC, the number of Americans lost to COVID-19 also continues to dwarf the number of deaths from influenza. Between Oct. 1, 2021, and Apr. 30, 2022, the CDC estimated that there have been around 3,600 – 10,000 flu deaths. In the same time frame, more than 280,000 Americans have reportedly died from COVID-19.
Racial and ethnic minorities in the country have also faced increased risk of testing positive, requiring hospitalization and dying from COVID-19. According to federal data, adjusted for age and population, the likelihood of death because of COVID-19 for Black, Asian, Latino and Native American people is one to two times higher than white people.
Many experts believe that the current COVID-19 death count could already be greatly undercounted, due to inconsistent reporting by states and localities, and the exclusion of excess deaths, a measure of how many lives have been lost beyond what would be expected if the pandemic had not occurred.
A recent report from the World Health Organization also found that globally, estimates show there were nearly 15 million excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 — more than double the official global death toll count of 6.2 million confirmed virus-related deaths.