BOISE, ID — Cindy Pollock of Boise, Idaho, began planting a tiny flag in her yard last fall for every Idaho resident who died of COVID-19. She’s now had to plant more than 1,800 of them.
The rising Idaho death toll was merely a number to her, she told The Associated Press, until two women she never met rang her doorbell in tears looking for a place to mourn their husband and father.
“I just wanted to hug them,” Pollack told The AP. “Because that was all I could do.”
Pollock then knew her tribute could do little to truly show the grief the pandemic has brought the families of the now more than 500,000 lives claimed by the virus in the United States. The country surpassed the grim milestone, once unthinkable, Monday afternoon.
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Pollock told The AP she began the memorial to counter the widespread denial of the threat. She has said people have been comforted in recent months, however, when they come by to pay their respects or mourn.
“I think that is part of what I was wanting, to get people talking,” she said, “Not just like, ‘Look at how many flags are in the yard today compared to last month,’ but trying to help people who have lost loved ones talk to other people.”
As the nation on Monday surpassed the milestone of 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths, it can be a challenge to put into context the loss of life the pandemic has caused in the year since the first American virus death.
The death toll is already greater than the population of several major American metropolises, including Miami and Kansas City, a report from The Associated Press shows. The deaths are roughly equal to the number of Americans killed in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined, and akin to a 9/11 every day for nearly six months.
“It’s very hard for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or have a family member who has died,” Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the AP. “We haven’t really fully understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”
This comes as the country is on track to make up for the millions of vaccination appointments that were postponed due to last week’s winter storm that crippled Texas and much of the Southern part of the country, officials have said.
At least 6 million of those have been delayed due to winter weather, the White House said Friday, creating a backlog that’s affecting every state and throwing off the pace of vaccination appointments over the next week.
Of the 6 million doses, 1.4 million were already in transit by the end of last week, the New York Times and others reported.
The delay will amount to a “temporary setback,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The vaccine plan should be back on track by the middle of this upcoming week, he added.
“The number was 6 million doses got delayed. We’ve gotten 2 million out, and we project that by the middle of the week, we will have caught up,” Fauci said.
Still, Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that it is “possible” masks could be needed to be worn by Americans well into 2022.
“It depends on the level of dynamics of virus that’s in the community,” Fauci said. “And that’s really important. … If you see the level coming down really really very low, I want it to keep going down to a baseline that’s so low that there’s virtually no threat — or not no, it’ll never be zero — but a minimal, minimal threat that you will be exposed to someone who’s infected. So if you combine getting most of the people in the country getting vaccinated with getting the level of virus in the community very very low, then I believe you’re going to be able to say, you know, for the most part we don’t necessarily have to wear masks. But if we have a level of virus that is at that level that it was months and months ago, like 20,000 per day, it is a heck of a lot better than what it’s been, but that’s still very high level of virus in the community.”
With the 500,000th U.S. coronavirus death being counted Monday, President Joe Biden will remember the lives lost with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony Monday at the White House, according to The Associated Press. This comes just over a year after the nation marked its first virus-related death.
Meanwhile, seven U.S. airlines have agreed to start collecting information from international passengers in order to help health officials more quickly warn travelers if they have been exposed to coronavirus.
The announcement marks a big change for the airline industry, which in the past has pushed back against requests to aid in contact tracing.
Under the plan, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines said they will start collecting information from travelers on U.S.-bound flights, according to a Washington Post report.
Passengers can voluntarily provide information including their legal name, two phone numbers, an email address, and the address of the place where they will be staying in the United States or of their permanent U.S. residence.
As of Tuesday, the United States had reported more than 28.1 million cases and more than 500,443 deaths from COVID-19-related illnesses, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
At least 1,337 deaths and 53,890 new cases of coronavirus had been reported in the United States on Tuesday as of 8:30 a.m. ET, according to a Washington Post database. The Post’s reporting shows that over the past week, new daily reported cases have fallen 26 percent, new daily reported deaths have fallen 27 percent and COVID-19-related hospitalizations have fallen 15.5 percent.
More than 75.2 million vaccine doses have been distributed and more than 64.2 million administered in the United States as of Tuesday, according to the CDC. More than 44.1 million people have received one dose, and nearly 19.4 million have received two.
Currently, 55,403 people are hospitalized with a coronavirus-related illness in the United States, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
As of Tuesday, 26 states and U.S. territories remained above the positive testing rate recommended by the World Health Organization to safely reopen. To safely reopen, the WHO recommends states remain at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 days.
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