The United States’ death toll from COVID-19 topped 600,000 on Tuesday, even as the vaccination drive has drastically brought down daily cases and fatalities and allowed the country to emerge from the gloom and look forward to summer.
The undesirable milestone, based on a Johns Hopkins University tally, came the same day that California and New York lifted most of their remaining restrictions, joining other states in opening the way, step by step, for what could be a fun and close to normal summer for many Americans.
With the arrival of the vaccine in mid-December, COVID-19 deaths per day in the US have plummeted to an average of about 340, from a high of more than 3,400 in mid-January. Cases are running at about 14,000 a day on average, down from a quarter-million per day over the winter.
The US leads the world in the number of COVID-related deaths.
President Joe Biden acknowledged the approaching milestone on Monday during his visit to Europe, saying that while new cases and deaths are dropping dramatically in the US, “there’s still too many lives being lost” and “now is not the time to let our guard down”.
The most recent deaths are seen in some ways as especially tragic now that the vaccine has become available practically for the asking.
Just below 65 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine, while more than 40 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But demand for shots in the US has dropped dramatically, leaving many places with a surplus of doses and casting doubt on whether the country will meet Biden’s target of having 70 percent of American adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.
The US is averaging 1.1 million injections per day, down from a high of about 3.3 million a day on average in mid-April, according to the CDC.
However, with the overall picture improving rapidly, California, the most populous state and the first to impose a coronavirus lockdown, dropped state rules on social distancing and limits on capacity at restaurants, bars, supermarkets, gyms, stadiums and other places, ushering in what has been billed as its “Grand Reopening” just in time for summer.
Disneyland is throwing open its gates to all tourists after allowing just California residents. Fans will be able to sit elbow-to-elbow and cheer without masks at Dodgers and Giants games
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday that 70 percent of adults in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and he announced that the immediate easing of many of the restrictions will be celebrated with fireworks.
“What does 70 percent mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it,” he said.
He said the state is lifting rules that had limited the size of gatherings and required some types of businesses to follow cleaning protocols, take people’s temperature or screen them for COVID-19 symptoms. Businesses will no longer have to restrict how many people they can allow inside without the need to stay 2 metres (about 6 feet) apart.
And the annual fireworks display on the National Mall in Washington, DC, will go ahead this July 4 after more than a year of prohibitions against large gatherings.
The National Park Service said on Tuesday the 17-minute display will be launched on Independence Day from both sides of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
“Watching the Fourth of July fireworks from the National Mall against the backdrop of the monuments and memorials is one of the grandest traditions of our nation’s capital,” said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of National Mall and Memorial Parks.
“This year’s display not only celebrates the 245th anniversary of American independence, but also marks an important step forward as the city emerges from the pandemic.”