US marks 1 million Covid deaths; President Joe Biden Marks

US marks 1 million Covid deaths; President Joe Biden Marks

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The United States has exceeded the one million death mark from Covid-19, according to the White House said on Thursday, as cities like New York try to turd the pandemic behind them amid warnings of future outbreak.

"Today, we mark a tragic milestone: one million American lives lost to Covid-19," President Joe Biden said in a statement that acknowledged the "unrelenting" pain of those who had lost loved ones during the pandemic.

He called on residents to "remain vigilant against this pandemic" and said it was "critical" for Congress to fund resources like testing, vaccines and treatments. For many, the toll of more than one million deaths was difficult to comprehend.

"It's unfathomable," Diana Berrent, one of the first people in New York state to catch Covid-19, said of the toll that far exceeds epidemiologists' worst predictions made at the outbreak of the crisis in spring 2020.

The 1 million mark is a stark reminder of the staggering grief and loss caused by the pandemic even as the threat posed by the virus wanes in the minds of many people. It represents about one death for every 327 Americans or more than the entire population of San Francisco or Seattle.


COVID-19 has claimed 36 lives in the United States by the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. The fatal virus spread like wildfire in the months that followed, finding fertile ground in heavily populated urban areas like New York City and eventually reaching every corner of the country.

The disease has left few places on Earth untouched, with 6.7 million confirmed deaths globally. The true toll, including those who died of COVID-19 as well as those who perished as an indirect result of the outbreak, was likely closer to 15 million, the WHO said.

Then, New York City was the virus epicenter. Hospitals and morgues overflowed and the sound of ambulance sirens rang down empty streets as then-president Donald Trump responded chaotically in Washington.

Two years on, and life in the Big Apple is largely back to normal as residents attempt to put the collective trauma of the virus that has killed 40,000 New Yorkers behind them.

Broadway stage lights are once again illuminated, tourists are back riding horse carriages in Central Park, yellow taxis clog main avenues and bars in business districts hum with post-work chatter.

"Without a doubt you feel the energy of the people that are on the streets. It's been a long time coming," Alfred Cerullo, president of a business improvement group in Midtown Manhattan, told AFP.

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.

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. The rise has coincided with the lifting of mask mandates.

"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.

"(But) the pandemic is not over. So you have a disconnect between what is happening epidemiologically and what's happening in terms of how people are responding," she told AFP.

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

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.


"There were nurses that said if they closed their eyes at night they could hear the patients struggling to breathe and they couldn't get it out of their heads," recalled Boston nurse Janice Maloof-Tomaso.

Ideological clashes over curfews and mask and vaccine mandates ensued as America racked up the world's highest death toll.

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

Deaths kept soaring, however, amid a slow take-up of shots in conservative areas of the country, and in February 2021 the country counted 500,000 dead.

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.

"We went from 'stay home and save lives' to let it rip," recalled 47-year-old Berrent, who, after her illness in 2020, founded the group Survivor Corps for people looking for information about long-haul Covid or a current infection.

"The question is no longer, 'Have you had Covid?' It's, 'How many times have you had Covid, and what symptoms do you still have?'