NEW YORK - The United States on Monday crossed the staggering milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths just over a year since the coronavirus pandemic claimed its first known victim in Santa Clara County, California.
The country had recorded more than 28 million COVID-19 cases and 500,054 lives lost as of Monday afternoon, according to a Reuters tally of public health data, although daily cases and hospitalizations have fallen to the lowest level since before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
About 19% of total global coronavirus deaths have occurred in the United States, an outsized figure given that the nation accounts for just 4% of the world's population.
"These numbers are stunning," Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease adviser to President Joe Biden told ABC News' "Good Morning America" program. "If you look back historically, we've done worse than almost any other country and we're a highly developed, rich country."
Fauci also said that political divisiveness contributed significantly to the "stunning" US COVID-19 death toll.
"Even under the best of circumstances, this would have been a very serious problem," Fauci said, noting that despite strong adherence to public health measures, countries such as Germany and the UK struggled with the virus.
"However, that does not explain how a rich and sophisticated country can have the most percentage of deaths and be the hardest-hit country in the world," said Fauci. "That I believe should not have happened."
The country's poor performance reflects the lack of a unified, national response last year, when the administration of former President Donald Trump mostly left states to their own devices in tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century, with the president often in conflict with his own health experts.
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are set to commemorate the huge loss of life due to COVID-19 later on Monday during an event at the White House that will include a speech by the president, a moment of silence and a candle lighting ceremony.
Biden will order that US flags on federal property be lowered to half staff for five days, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
The National Cathedral in Washington will also toll its bells 500 times on Monday evening to honor the lives lost to COVID-19 in a livestream event, according to a notice on its website.
In 2020, the virus has taken a full year off the average life expectancy in the United States, the biggest decline since World War Two.
Sweeping through the country at the beginning of last year, the US epidemic had claimed its first 100,000 lives by May.
The death toll doubled by September as the virus ebbed and surged during the summer months.