The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 hit 1 million on Monday, a once-unimaginable figure that only hints at the multitudes of loved ones and friends staggered by grief and frustration.
The confirmed number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined. It's as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out.
"It is hard to imagine a million people plucked from this earth," said Jennifer Nuzzo, who leads a new pandemic center at the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island. "It's still happening and we are letting it happen."
Some of those left behind say they cannot return to normal. They replay their loved ones' voicemail messages. Or watch old videos to see them dance. When other people say they are done with the virus, they bristle with anger or ache in silence.
"'Normal.' I hate that word," said Julie Wallace, 55, of Elyria, Ohio, who lost her husband to COVID-19 in 2020. "All of us never get to go back to normal."
Three out of every four deaths were people 65 and older. More men died than women. White people made up most of the deaths overall. But Black, Hispanic and Native American people have been roughly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.
Most deaths happened in urban areas, but rural places — where opposition to masks and vaccinations tends to run high — paid a heavy price at times.
The death toll less than 2 1/2 years into the outbreak is based on death certificate data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. But the real number of lives lost to COVID-19, either directly or indirectly, as a result the disruption of the healthcare system in the world's richest country, is believed to be far higher.
The U.S. has the highest reported COVID-19 death toll of any country, though health experts have long suspected that the real number of deaths in places such as India, Brazil and Russia is higher than the official figures.
The milestone comes more than three months after the U.S. reached 900,000 dead. The pace has slowed since a harrowing winter surge fueled by the omicron variant.
The U.S. is averaging about 300 COVID-19 deaths per day, compared with a peak of about 3,400 a day in January 2021. New cases are on the rise again, climbing more than 60% in the past two weeks to an average of about 86,000 a day — still well below the all-time high of over 800,000, reached when the omicron variant was raging during the winter.