A Scripps Health nurse treats a coronavirus patient in an ICU. Image from Scripps video

The United States on Monday crossed the staggering milestone of 500,000 COVID-19 deaths just over a year since the pandemic claimed its first American victim in Northern California.

The country had recorded more than 28 million cases and 500,054 lives lost as of Monday afternoon, according to a Reuters tally of public health data, although daily cases and hospitalizations have fallen to the lowest level since before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

In California, there have been 3,446,611 cases and 49,338 deaths, the state Department of Public Health reported Monday.

About 19% of total global coronavirus deaths have occurred in the United States, an outsized figure given that the nation accounts for just 4% of the world’s population.

“These numbers are stunning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease adviser to President Joe Biden told the ABC News’ “Good Morning America” program. “If you look back historically, we’ve done worse than almost any other country and we’re a highly developed, rich country.”

The country’s poor performance reflects the lack of a unified, national response last year, when the administration of former President Donald Trump mostly left states to their own devices in tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century, with the president often in conflict with his own health experts.

By contrast, the influenza epidemic in 1918-19 killed an estimated 675,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were scheduled to commemorate the huge loss of life due to COVID-19 later on Monday during an event at the White House that will include a speech by the president, a moment of silence and a candle lighting ceremony.

Biden will also order that U.S. flags on federal property be lowered to half staff for five days, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

The National Cathedral in Washington will also toll its bells 500 times on Monday evening to honor the lives lost to COVID-19 in a livestream event, according to a notice on its website.

The virus has taken a full year off the average life expectancy in the United States, the biggest decline since World War Two.

Despite the grim milestone, the virus appears to have loosened its grip as COVID-19 cases in United States fell for the sixth consecutive week. However, health experts have warned that coronavirus variants initially discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil could unleash another wave that threatens to reverse the recent positive trends.

Fauci cautioned against complacency and urged Americans to continue public health measures such as wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds while officials race to inoculate the population, particularly with these more contagious new variants circulating.

“We’ve got be really careful and not just say ‘OK we’re finished now, we’re through it,” he told ABC.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.