Omicron Wave Pushes U.S. COVID Numbers Past 'Astronomical' 900,000 Deaths

The United States' COVID-19 death toll surpassed 900,000 on Friday, a new record since the start of the pandemic two years ago and the start of the country's vaccination rollout 13 months ago.

Though data from Johns Hopkins University shows that January's spike in virus cases driven by the Omicron variant is starting to decrease, deaths in the U.S. have trended upward. Some experts have attributed this rise to the country only being about 64 percent fully vaccinated.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told the Associated Press the number of deaths is "astronomically high," adding that most of them happened after the vaccine was authorized.

"We got the medical science right. We failed on the social science," Jha was quoted by the AP. "We failed on how to help people get vaccinated, to combat disinformation, to not politicize this."

According to Johns Hopkins, the U.S. has the highest number of people who have died from COVID-19 in the world, with nearly 300,000 more deaths than Brazil, the country with the next-highest number of deaths. When looking at deaths relative to population, the U.S. still falls in the top 20 countries in the world.

In an interview with PBS, Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, who studies epidemiology and global health at the Johns Hopkins Center For Health, said the high death toll in the U.S. is likely due to the country "not making enough progress in vaccinating adults against the virus."

The U.S. ranks third in the world when looking at the number of people vaccinated, but when focusing on vaccination rates relative to population, the U.S. falls to 58th in the world, though it still stands above the world average, Johns Hopkins reported.

Nuzzo told PBS some Americans are hesitant to get the vaccine because the U.S. has an "information environment" in which people try to do their own research on the vaccine.

"And, for many people, it's much easier to find lies about the vaccines than the truth and to find information about the benefits of these vaccines," she said. "So, we really need to do more."

She also noted that politicization of the virus has discouraged many from getting the vaccine.

"When political leaders make a political issue out of simple biology, which is that the virus is deadly and the vaccines protect people, it unfortunately deters people from getting vaccinated," Nuzzo was quoted by PBS.

While cases and hospitalizations have been slowing across the U.S., it takes some time for a patient to succumb to the virus once they are affected, contributing to the lag in the death rate, the AP reported.

Dr. Andrew Noymer, a professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine, told the AP he predicts the U.S. will hit 1 million COVID-19 deaths by next month.

Chicago, hospital, COVID-19
The U.S. has surpassed 900,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Above, respiratory therapist Joanna Bielski checks on a COVID-19 patient in the ICU at Rush University Medial Center on January 31 in Chicago. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images