Since the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the United States in January 2020, more than 700,000 Americans have died from the virus. The Covid-19 pandemic, which is now the deadliest in U.S. history, has claimed a disproportionately high number of lives in rural areas and among Hispanic, Black, and Indigenous communities. Across the country, Covid-19 cases and deaths continue to climb despite widespread vaccine availability.
“We have to remember that each of those people represent a life: It’s someone’s mother, brother, father, best friend,” says Crystal Wiley Cené, executive director for health equity at the University of North Carolina Health System, to Amy McKeever for National Geographic. “The toll is much greater than 700,000 deaths.”
The hardest-hit states were those with limited public health restrictions and low rates of vaccinations, like Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, report Julie Bosman and Lauren Leatherby for the New York Times. Covid-19 has killed around 17,000 Floridians and 13,000 Texans since mid-June, accounting for more than 30 percent of the nation’s deaths in the last few months. Over 90 percent of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are people who are unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated.
In a statement Saturday, President Joe Biden lamented what he called the “painful milestone” of 700,000 Covid-19 deaths and said that “we must not become numb to the sorrow.”
Approximately 70 million Americans have failed to get vaccinated, with around a third of white conservatives refusing the jab. Still, Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people are at least twice as likely to die of Covid-19 compared to white Americans. Experts say the disproportionate death toll is due to a combination of factors, including under-resourced hospitals and a long legacy of discrimination by medical providers. According to an Axios-Ipsos poll, unvaccinated Hispanic and Black people say they are more likely to be persuaded to get the shot, while those that report the most vaccine resistance are overwhelmingly white, reports Margaret Talev for Axios.
Unvaccinated people accounted for at least 70,000 of the last 100,000 deaths over the past few months, says David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, to Tammy Webber and Heather Hollingsworth for the Associated Press. Any vaccinated people who died from breakthrough infections likely caught the virus from an unvaccinated person, says Dowdy. Almost 65 percent of Americans have had at least one dose of vaccine, and just over half are fully vaccinated, despite ample vaccine availability in the U.S.
“If we had been more effective in our vaccination, then I think it’s fair to say we could have prevented 90% of those deaths,” since mid-June, says Dowdy to the Associated Press. “It’s not just a number on a screen. It’s tens of thousands of these tragic stories of people whose families have lost someone who means the world to them.”