The United States on Tuesday marked another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, surpassing 800,000 deaths from COVID-19.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 800,000 Americans have died from complications from the virus since the pandemic began, with more than 50 million reported U.S. cases — far more cases and deaths than in any other country in the world.
Put another way, the U.S. death toll from coronavirus now exceeds the entire population of North Dakota.
Just a year ago, the country's death toll stood at 300,000. In February, a month after President Biden took office, that number surpassed 500,000.On Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a moment of silence inside the House chamber for the lives lost. Later Tuesday, Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other bipartisan members of Congress held a moment of silence on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.
This week also marks a year since the COVID-19 vaccine became available. Since then, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Biden held a similarly solemn vigil at the Lincoln Memorial on the eve of his inauguration, when the U.S. passed the 400,000 mark.)
But that wasn't enough to stop COVID-19 from being deadlier in the United States this year than last year, when there was no vaccine. According to data from the CDC, the country has lost more lives to the virus in 2021 (more than 413,000) than were reported in 2020 (about 385,000).
The reason: the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant, and the refusal of many Americans to get inoculated against COVID-19.
"We're dealing with Delta," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN on Tuesday morning. "We're dealing with a much more formidable virus in every respect."
Add to that the more than 60 million Americans who are eligible to be vaccinated but have not done so.
"We've got to do better than that," Fauci said.
With the pandemic about to enter its third calendar year, U.S. health officials continue to fight misinformation surrounding the COVID vaccine.
“Deaths continue," National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said this week, "most of them unvaccinated, most of the unvaccinated because somebody, somewhere, fed them information that was categorically wrong and dangerous.”
And with the recent arrival of the Omicron variant, the message from the White House COVID-19 Task Force continues to be focused on vaccines and boosters.
Just 26.9 percent of eligible Americans have received a booster dose so far, per CDC data.
"Vaccines remain our most important tool," Jeff Zients said at a task force briefing Monday. "But we need everyone to do their part. This means getting boosted."