The total number of people in the U.S. who have died after contracting COVID-19 has now exceeded the number of Americans who died in combat during World War II.
World War II was the deadliest war in American history in terms of the number of service members who lost their lives on a battlefield, with an estimated 291,557 combat deaths, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
On Thursday, December 10, the U.S. surpassed that number as coronavirus cases and hospitalization rates continued rising across the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, 291,754 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus as of December 10, at 5:26 p.m.
The somber milestone comes at a time when health experts have predicted that the country’s battle with the pandemic will only worsen in the weeks ahead. The number of daily COVID-19 cases reported throughout the country steadily increased during the fall, raising alarms about how hospitals would handle surges in COVID-19 patients amid the traditional resurgence of winter respiratory diseases.
The number of COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. has now surpassed the number of American service members who died in battle during World War II. In the photo above, the Statue of Liberty is seen behind refrigeration trucks that function as temporary morgues at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal during the coronavirus pandemic on May 25, 2020, in New York City. Noam Galai/Getty
In a statement shared with Newsweek, a spokesperson for the 501(c)(3) organization Friends of the National World War II Memorial acknowledged the lives lost during World War II and encouraged Americans to remember the survivors who may be struggling with isolation due to the pandemic.
“In this pandemic, when our WWII veterans are among our most vulnerable and isolated, it has never been more important to reach out to them, to learn from them, and to honor them for their service and sacrifice,” the organization’s statement said. “And, the Friends of the National World War II Memorial hopes that Americans can look to World War II and its veterans for lessons of unity, honor, integrity, and selfless sacrifice.”
According to projections by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the total number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. could exceed a half million by April 1, even if some states reimpose lockdown measures in attempts to curb the virus’ spread. The U.S. is also likely to report hundreds of thousands of new infections every day by mid-January, according to the institute’s projections.
The U.S. began leading the world in terms of total COVID-19 cases shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic in the spring. Though many states appeared to be flattening their virus curves by the end of the summer, cases were on the rise again by mid-fall. The U.S. added 1 million new infections to its total case count during a 10-day span between late October and early November, and it only took six days after that for the country to report an additional 1 million new cases.
By December 10, the U.S. reported more than 15 million total cases, according to a Johns Hopkins University data tracker. That number included more than 108,000 veterans, according to a weekly report published by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The total number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths previously exceeded those reported in battle during the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War I, and the Civil War. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the total number of battle deaths recorded throughout American history is estimated to be 651,031. In a news release published on December 3, the IHME said that COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are expected to reach 539,000 by the beginning of April, even if vaccine distribution begins as expected in the coming weeks.
No vaccine has yet received the necessary approvals from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, two pharmaceutical companies—Pfizer and Moderna—have applied for emergency use authorizations for their two-dose vaccines through the FDA and could receive those approvals by mid-December. Federal health officials have said doses could begin to be distributed swiftly once a vaccine is approved, though not every American will receive their first dose right away.
On December 1, an immunization advisory committee recommended to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that health care workers and long-term care facility residents receive priority for the first vaccines and that Americans in other priority groups begin receiving doses in the weeks and months that follow.
Newsweek reached out to the Department of Veterans Affairs for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.