US coronavirus deaths surpass 900,000, amid Omicron surge
The coronavirus pandemic reached a grim new milestone in the United States on Friday with the nation's cumulative death toll from COVID-19 surpassing 900,000.
The latest tally by Reuters marks an increase of more than 100,000 US COVID-19 fatalities since Dec. 12, coinciding with a surge of infections and hospitalizations driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the virus.
Preliminary evidence has shown that Omicron, while far more infectious, generally causes less severe illness than earlier iterations of the virus, such as Delta.
But the sheer volume of Omicron cases fueled a surge in hospitalizations that has strained many US healthcare systems to their limits in recent weeks.
Experts have said the bulk of Omicron patients requiring hospitalization were unvaccinated individuals and people with other underlying chronic health conditions.
Data also suggests that Omicron may have hit the United States harder than other countries with younger overall populations, such as in Africa.
As of Friday, according to Reuters' running tally of state-reported data, the total number of American lives lost to COVID-19 since the first US cases were detected in early 2020 has reached at least 904,228.
US President Joe Biden, whose first year in office has been dogged by a pandemic that has proven more implacable than was expected - due in part to many Americans' hesitancy to get vaccinated - used the occasion to urge greater vaccine uptake.
Some 250 million Americans have received at least one shot, "and we have saved more than one million American lives as a result," he said in a statement.
On the eve of his inauguration in January 2021, Biden led a national memorial observance to honor the 400,000 Americans who had then perished from COVID-19, 11 months after the virus claimed its first US life.
The latest tally stands as the highest number of COVID-19 deaths reported by any nation, followed by Russia, Brazil and India with more than 1.8 million deaths combined.
In terms of coronavirus fatalities per capita, the United States ranks 20th, well below the top two - Peru and Russia.
Nevertheless, the US COVID-19 death rate appears to be slowing as the Omicron surge wanes, Reuters' figures show.
Some public health officials have said that as the Omicron outbreak recedes and hospitalizations decline, the pandemic may enter a new phase in the United States and elsewhere.