The U.S. hit another sobering milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic this week. There have been 600,170 COVID-19 deaths, according to the NBC News COVID-19 tracker, as well as 33,492,155 total cases since the start of the pandemic.
The country is hitting this staggering death toll at a time even when the outlook for the pandemic is starting to look bright, based on a number of indicators. The seven-day average for new cases and deaths reached record lows last week and those numbers continue to fall, according to the CDC’s weekly summary.
Many people are celebrating a return to relative normalcy as states lift restrictions and open back up, largely thanks to a strong COVID-19 vaccine effort. To date, 63% of people over 18 have received at least one vaccine dose, per the CDC, with just over half the adult population (52%) fully vaccinated. More children are being vaccinated too, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizing the first vaccine (Pfizer) for kids ages 12 to 15 in May and more vaccine options for this age group on the horizon.
The NBC News figures, tabulated from reports provided by state officials, exceed the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate of 592,776 deaths, which tends to lag behind other trackers due to the way the agency collects data. There are also gaps and errors in the data itself that likely lead to undercounting COVID-19 deaths. Even the NBC figures are likely to be an underestimate, given the fact that death certificate data state officials might be relying on is likely failing to capture all actual deaths due to COVID-19, as SELF has reported. Experts say the true impact of the pandemic, including deaths directly and indirectly caused by COVID-19, will become clearer with more time and research.
The country, which hit 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in February, has made tremendous progress worth celebrating in the fight against COVID-19. And experts say we can avoid another nationwide surge if current rates of vaccination continue on pace to meet President Joe Biden’s goal of getting 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated by the Fourth of July.
Even though death rates are at a record low, with the latest CDC weekly report putting the daily average death toll over the last seven days at 325, hundreds of Americans are still dying due to the disease every day. Hitting the milestone of 600,000 deaths is a grim reminder that the pandemic is not over—and that COVID-19 will continue to impact Americans long after infection and death rates taper. The trajectory of the pandemic is looking up, but many are still grieving.