In this Feb. 15, 2021, file photo, Patty Trejo, 54, left, looks at her intubated husband, Joseph, in a COVID-19 unit as registered nurse Celina Mande holds a smartphone showing a mariachi band performing for the patient at St. Jude Medical Center, in Fullerton, Calif. Trejo visited her husband for the first time since he was hospitalized more than a month ago. A survivor of COVID-19 herself, she invited a mariachi band to give him courage. Surrounded by hospital staff, family members and friends in the parking lot of the hospital, the band played her husband’s favorite song, “La mano de Dios,” or “The Hand of God.” “He needs to know that I still love him, and he needs to know he’s got to fight,” said Trejo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 Monday, all but matching the number of Americans killed in World War II, Korea and Vietnam combined.

The lives lost, as recorded by Johns Hopkins University, are about equal to the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and greater than that of Miami; Raleigh, North Carolina; or Omaha, Nebraska.

And despite the rollout of vaccines since mid-December, a closely watched model from the University of Washington projects more than 589,000 dead by June 1.

The U.S. toll is by far the highest reported in the world, accounting for 20 percent of the nearly 2.5 million deaths globally, though the true numbers are thought to be significantly greater, in part because of the many cases that were overlooked, especially early in the outbreak.

Average daily deaths and cases have plummeted in the past few weeks. Virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day. But warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself.

Some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated yet for the vaccine to be making much of a difference.

  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this April 6, 2020, file photo, gravediggers lower the casket of someone who died of coronavirus at the Hebrew Free Burial Association’s cemetery in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this July 6, 2020, file photo, blanket is pulled to cover the body of a patient after medical personnel were unable to to save her life inside the coronavirus unit at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this April 2, 2020, file photo, Pat Marmo, owner of Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home, walks through his body holding facility in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this Jan. 9, 2021, file photo, transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza move a body of a COVID-19 patient to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this Dec. 15, 2020, file phtoo, social distancing marker directs workers at Women & Infants Hospital arriving to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Providence, R.I. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, marks are seen on the face of registered nurse Shelly Girardin as she removes a protective mask after performing rounds in a COVID-19 unit at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Mo. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this Dec. 22, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Keith Robinson, right, watches as fellow nurse Angela Coomds calls out a patient’s name from a COVID-19 triage tent at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this May 17, 2020, file photo, Mohammad Ayaz, cousin of Mohammad Altaf, center right, is hugged by a mourner after funeral prayers are given over Altaf’s body at Al-Rayaan Muslim Funeral Services in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, ventilator tubes are attached to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this April 9, 2020, file photo, medical workers wearing personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns move a body behind a fence at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has topped 500,000—a number so staggering that a top health researchers says it is hard to imagine an American who hasn’t lost a relative or doesn’t know someone who died. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
  • US tops 500,000 virus deaths, matching the toll of 3 wars
    In this Oct. 27, 2020, file photo, Artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg walks among thousands of white flags planted in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19 near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington. Firstenberg’s temporary art installation, called “In America, How Could This Happen,” will include an estimated 240,000 flags when completed. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Instead, the drop-off in deaths and cases has been attributed to the passing of the holidays; the cold and bleak days of midwinter, when many people are inclined to stay home; and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. happened in early February 2020. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.

The U.S. recorded an estimated 405,000 deaths in World War II, 58,000 in the Vietnam War and 36,000 in the Korean War.


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