NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The United States reached a horrifying milestone on Monday, crossing 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.
President Joe Biden spoke at a ceremony and then held a moment of silence at the White House.
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As CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported, so much has changed in the past year, and so many lives have been lost.
“It’s a struggle on a daily basis,” Rima Samman, of Belmar, New Jersey said.
Samman lost her brother, Rami, to COVID-19 on Mother’s Day. She started a memorial in Belmar on Jan. 25, which would have been his 41st birthday.
“He was always very helpful to others, he would do anything and everything for anybody, whether it was a stranger or a neighbor,” Samman said.
The memorial honors 1,100 lives lost to the coronavirus, with each name written on a rock. Samman said it grows every day, among the now half a million Americans.
“We see the number on a day-to-day basis on the news, but I don’t think people really understand the magnitude of the losses,” she said. “Each name is attached to somebody’s sister, or somebody’s son, or somebody’s father, mother.”
“It’s horrible and one person is too many,” said Wiandy Santiago of Staten Island, who lost her brother, Wilmard, at the height of the pandemic in April.
“It has been hard for the family because we weren’t able to be there for him. We weren’t able to hold his hand,” Wiandy said.
She has been left holding on to memories of the 65-year-old: his love of music, the Yankees and, most importantly, his family.
“My brother didn’t have a lot of material things, like he was rich in love and compassion and friendship and I want him to be remembered that way,” Wiandy said.
Sabila Khan lives three blocks from the Jersey City hospital where her father died last April. She started a a Facebook group to help those who, like her, didn’t get to say goodbye.
“I wish I could have held his hand,” Khan told CBS2’s Jessica Layton. “So many people in the group had the experience of dropping their loved ones off at the hospital and literally never seeing them again.”
The page connects this community with comfort and mental health resources. A month ago it had 5,000 members. Now, there are 7,300, a local example of the unfathomable emotional crisis now facing our nation.
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“For every COVID death, there are nine close family members left behind, so our country is experiencing a tsunami of grief,” Khan said. “We’re never gonna return to normal. Our loved ones are not coming back after this pandemic.”
The grim milestone is being felt across the country and was marked in the nation’s capitol Monday night.
The Washington National Cathedral started ringing its bells 500 times during the early evening hours, and then Biden held a candle lighting ceremony.
Today, our nation passed another grim milestone in this pandemic: 500,000 lives lost. Join us as we honor their memory. https://t.co/AzUzXoVUgb
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 22, 2021
This comes just over a year after the first fatality in the U.S.
“Back in the late winter and early spring of 2020 when we gave the modeling number of 240,000, people thought we were being hyperbolic about that and somewhat alarmist, and clearly that was not the case,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci.
That estimate has now more than doubled.
Among the grief, there’s also reason to feel hopeful, with hospitalizations decreasing and the vaccines. Still, Dr. Fauci said we cannot let our guard down.
“We really can’t declare victory quite yet, because we have vaccines that clearly are the light at the end of the tunnel, but we know that there are variants out there,” he told CBS This Morning.
Fauci urged people to continue take measures like wearing masks, which he said we could still be doing next year to prevent infection spikes.
“Wear the mask, do the social distancing. Let’s push a little harder so that no one else has to lose a loved one,” Wiandy Santiago added.
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CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report