US mourns one million dead from Covid-19

The first Covid-19 vaccines became available in December 2020, less than a year after the first cases were reported in China

The United States has crossed the threshold of one million deaths from Covid-19, the White House said on Thursday, as the nation seeks to turn the page on the pandemic despite threats of another surge.

“Today, we mark a tragic milestone,” President Joe Biden said in a remain statement that acknowledged the “unrelenting” pain of bereaved families, and urged Americans to vigilant as cases tick back up.

Biden’s announcement came as he chaired a global virtual Covid summit, taking place as Europe also passed two million Covid deaths, focused on efforts to bring the pandemic under control worldwide and prepare for future health emergencies.

America recorded its first Covid-19 death, on the West Coast, in early February 2020. By the next month, the virus was ravaging New York and the White House was predicting up to 240,000 deaths nationwide.

Even in New York — the hard-hit early epicenter of America’s Covid crisis — the million death milestone was difficult to comprehend.

Back in spring 2020, New York City hospitals and morgues overflowed, and the sound of ambulance sirens rang down empty streets as then-president Donald Trump responded chaotically in Washington.

Broadway stage lights are once again illuminated, yellow taxis clog main avenues and bars in business districts hum with post-work chatter.

New York’s rebound has been aided by its high inoculation numbers — about 88 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, a rate that was boosted by mandates, including for indoor activities like dining.

“People have been sitting at home for two years. They want to celebrate and they’re entitled to,” he told AFP.

But the city has a long way to go. Many stores remain empty and only 38 percent of Manhattan workers are in the office on an average weekday, according to Kastle Systems, a security firm that tracks building occupancy.

In recent weeks, the United States has seen an uptick in the number of daily virus cases, largely due to the new Omicron subvariant.

“I think we are in a place where psychologically and socially and economically, people are largely done with the pandemic,” said Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert at New York University.

Among the most at-risk are the unvaccinated, lower-income populations, uninsured people and communities of color, she says.

Ideological clashes over curfews and mask and vaccine mandates characterized America’s early pandemic response, as it racked up the world’s highest death toll, with overwhelmed hospitals and morgues failing to keep up with the dead.

Trump did pump billions of dollars into vaccine research and by mid-December 2020, the first vaccines were available for health care workers.

New president Biden and many Democratic governors enforced mandates but Republican-led states like Florida and Texas outright banned them, highlighting America’s patchwork of rules that made forming a unified response to the pandemic difficult.

Originally published as US mourns one million dead from Covid-19

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