The US approached nearly 500,000 coronavirus deaths on Sunday, a "devastating" milestone that reflects how COVID-19 has devastated the US far worse than any other country.
"It's terrible. It's historical. We haven't seen anything like it for more than a hundred years since the pandemic influenza of 1918," said Dr. Anthony Fauci on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.
"It's something breathtaking when you look at the numbers, almost unbelievable, but it's true," added Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases. "This is a devastating pandemic, and historical. People will be talking about it for decades and decades and decades."
According to the Johns Hopkins University, 498,879 Americans died of COVID-19 as of late Sunday. That is roughly twice as many deaths as in the hardest-hit country Brazil with around 247,000 deaths. Around 2.5 million people have died worldwide, according to Hopkins data. In total, there were more than 28.1 million cases in the US, by far the most in the world, almost three times as many as in India and Brazil. More than 111.3 million people are infected worldwide.
The number of deaths in the US is expected to officially exceed 500,000 sometime on Monday.
The death toll is well above government projections last March when the Trump administration estimated there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.
The first known coronavirus deaths in the United States occurred in Santa Clara County, California, just over a year ago in February 2020. It took until the end of May to hit the 100,000 death milestone and until September to hit 200,000. 300,000 people had died in the United States by mid-December and 400,000 at the end of January.
Last year, COVID-19 killed about one in 670 Americans.
While coronavirus cases drop sharply as more people are vaccinated, Fauci said now is not the time to relax.
"The slope of the downward trajectory is really very good and very impressive," Fauci told Fox News in a separate interview on Sunday. "The only thing we don't want to do is be complacent that it is falling so much that we are now out of the woods because we are still at a baseline of daily infection which is quite problematic."
Despite the grim milestone, there is optimism. With vaccine doses easing shortages, the Biden government is trying to focus its efforts on distributing the shots faster, with the goal of vaccinating all eligible adults by the end of the summer.
The White House said Biden would make remarks at sunset Monday in memory of those who died in the pandemic. He and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff, will watch a moment of silence and light candles during a ceremony at the White House.