Six hundred thousand. Americas coronavirus death toll topped the 600,000 mark Tuesday, even as an aggressive nationwide vaccination drive has crushed daily caseloads and pulled the country back to a place where it can look forward to summer as usual and even Independence Day celebrations in pre-pandemic style.
Hundreds continue to die each day. President Joe Biden is warning that the fight isn't over and is urging more Americans to get vaccinated as contagious variants spread.
It's been 16 months since the first known deaths from the virus in the US. Within four months starting early March last year, 100,000 perished. Fall and winter were brutal, taking the toll to 400,000 before Biden took charge as president. The last 200,000 deaths have come at a much slower pace, riding on strong vaccination numbers.
By now, more than 50 per cent of Americans have got at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine and over 40 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Crowds are surging at tourist hotspots, businesses are reopening with a burst of confidence, the malls are packed, people are shaking hands again.
Restrictions being eased
States like California and New York which bore the worst brunt of the initial outbreak are lifting most restrictions this week, and some of them are marking the moment with fireworks.
Biden was hoping to get at least 70 per cent of the population partially vaccinated by July 4 and the current numbers are just short of 65 percent. The US is currently delivering 1 million jabs per day, dropping off the highs and the urgency of 3 million plus vaccines per day in early Spring.
In New York, 70 per cent of adults in the state have received at least one shot. "What does 70 per cent mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it," Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
The White House is planning a big bang July Fourth celebration to mark a standout moment in the country's recovery, even as other nations continue to struggle with lockdowns and resurgent variants of the virus.
Biden plans to celebrate the July Fourth holiday as America's "summer of freedom" and highlight his government's "wartime response" to the vaccination challenge when he took office.