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U.S. coronavirus death toll surpasses 500,000

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It was a somber day as the U.S. passed 500,000 coronavirus deaths. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a moment of silence to pay tribute to the lives lost. Carter Evans reports.

Video Transcript

NORAH O'DONNELL: Good evening, and thank you for joining us. We are going to begin tonight with breaking news, the kind of news few ever thought possible, news which somehow, no matter how many times we say it, is still so hard to comprehend. As we come on the air tonight, more than half a million Americans have now been killed by the coronavirus. 500,000 Americans taken by a virus we didn't even know existed a little over a year ago.

Tonight, President Biden led the nation in a candlelight vigil paying tribute to those who are gone. Above him at the White House, the flag now flies at half staff. For a country which has endured great loss on the battlefield, during natural disasters, and to violence, tonight still feels different. The weight of the grief felt by Americans of all walks of life is crushing.

It can be heard in the bells tolling here in Washington and across the country. And it can be seen in the faces of those who have lost a friend or a family member. That there has been so much loss so quickly is staggering. That tens of thousands could still die in the coming weeks is unimaginable. There's just no way to calculate a loss so immeasurable.

So tonight, we will try to tell some of the stories of those who are no longer here and of those who they left behind. We also have some new reporting on some hopeful signs that despite our darkest hour, there is light ahead. And our correspondents are standing by, as they have been throughout this pandemic. CBS's Carter Evans is going to lead off our coverage tonight from Los Angeles. Good evening, Carter.

CARTER EVANS: Good evening, Norah. Over the past year-- this is just a staggering number, by the way-- COVID has killed one American every single minute of every single day. And it's why the federal government is now staffing mass vaccination sites like this one in a race to save lives.

A somber day marked by silence. Tonight, President Biden and Vice President Harris are paying tribute to the 500,000 American lives taken by the pandemic.

JOE BIDEN: The people we lost were extraordinary. It's our fellow Americans. It's our neighbors, our friends, our mothers, our fathers, our sons, our daughters.

CARTER EVANS: As if nearly every single resident in the city of Atlanta suddenly vanished. Tonight the bells tolled at Washington's National Cathedral, as they did when 200,000 died, then 30, 400, and now half a million. The toll felt early on by Newark physician Dr. Chris Pernell.

CHRIS PERNELL: It's like the epicenter of the epidemic landed on me personally.

CARTER EVANS: She lost her father, a scientist, as COVID overwhelmed New York. Since then, she volunteered for the Moderna trial.

CHRIS PERNELL: I did a screening in my office. And I said, daddy, I've become a data point. And that was the best way I could pay his legacy forward.

CARTER EVANS: Tonight the CDC is reporting at least 44 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose. Nearly 20 million are now fully vaccinated. But delays persist from the storms that swept through the South.