The US passed 600,000 Covid-19 deaths on Monday, about 15% of the world’s total coronavirus fatalities of around 4 million, a Reuters tally shows.
State governments are loosening social distancing rules and relaxing mask mandates, and businesses are fully reopening amid a steady decline in Covid-19 cases and sustained progress in the nation’s vaccination campaign.
But the pandemic has claimed more lives in the US than in any other country.
President Joe Biden said on Monday that despite a nationwide drop in cases and hospitalisations, the disease “is still a real tragedy” and is claiming an average of 370 people a day.
The rate of severe illness and death has dropped dramatically as more Americans have been vaccinated.
“If you’ve not been vaccinated, get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Biden said at a news conference at the Nato summit in Brussels, Belgium. “We have more work to do to beat this virus. And now is not the time to let our guard down.”
Most people are eager to shake off more than a year of sickness and lockdown, yet they still suffer from grief, lingering symptoms, economic trauma, or the isolation of lockdown.
“We’ve all lived through this awful time, and all of us have been affected one way or another,” said Erika Stein, who still suffers from migraines, fatigue, and cognitive issues since contracting Covid-19 last autumn.
Stein, 34, was active and fit, working as a marketing executive and fitness instructor in Virginia outside Washington, DC, before the initial illness and then a related syndrome known as long-Covid ravaged her life.
Like many, she has mixed feelings about how quickly cities and states have moved to lift pandemic restrictions and reopen.
In Queens, New York, an early epicentre of the US outbreak, social worker Shyvonne Noboa still cries talking about the disease that devastated her family, infecting 14 out of 17 relatives and killing her beloved grandfather, who died alone in a hospital where they could not visit him.
When she goes to supermarkets now and sees the well-stocked aisles, she recalls the pandemic’s depths, when she could not find hand sanitiser to protect her family.
“New York City is going back to ‘normal’ and opening up, but for my family there is no normal.”
She is vaccinated, but still wears a mask when she is out, and plans to continue doing so.
Chris Kocher, who founded the support and advocacy group Covid Survivors for Change, urged sympathy and support for people who are still grieving.
“We’re being given this false choice where you can open up and celebrate, or you need to be locked down in grief,” he said.
“Let’s be thankful that people are getting vaccinated, but let’s also acknowledge that going back to normal is not an option for millions.”