Alexa

America's pandemic toll: In one year, half a million lives

A doctor, right, assists nurses as they treat a patient delivered by emergency medical personnel from a nursing home showing symptoms of COVID-19 at a...
Judie Shape, center, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, blows a kiss to her son-in-law, Michael Spencer, left, as Shape's daughter, Lori Spe...
Tom Hanks arrives at the Oscars in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2020. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Fans watch from grass beyond the outfield as the Chicago Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers in a spring training baseball game Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, i...
People wait for an H-E-B grocery store to open Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Spring, Texas. Grocery store executives and city officials reassured the co...
Bartender Cassandra Paris takes farewell a shot at an early closing time at 169 bar with patrons Monday, March 16, 2020, in New York. New York leaders...
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks on the scoreboard screen in an empty Sprint Center after canceling the remaining NCAA college basketball games ...
Deanna Butts reaches for one of the last packages of toilet paper at Target in the Tenleytown area of Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Supplies ar...
A person is taken on a stretcher into the United Memorial Medical Center after going through testing for COVID-19 Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Houston...
A man crosses the street in a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning in New York, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Mar...
Workers wearing personal protective equipment bury bodies during the coronavirus pandemic in a trench on Hart Island in the Bronx borough of New York ...
Bodies are wrapped in protective plastic in a holding facility during the coronavirus pandemic at Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home, April 2, 2020, in t...
Medical personnel prepare to transport a body from a refrigerated container at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in the Broo...
Nurses and doctors clear the area before defibrillating a patient with COVID-19 who went into cardiac arrest, Monday, April 20, 2020, at a hospital in...
Chaplain Will Runyon holds back tears as he speaks of the hardships and death amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak outside of Phoebe Putney Memorial...
The family of Larry Hammond wave as a line of cars with friends and family, who could not attend his funeral due to the coronavirus, pass by their hom...
Empty lanes of the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway lead to downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, April 26, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark J. ...
Medical personnel talk as they care for COVID-19 patients at DHR Health, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The Rev. Fabian Arias performs an in-home service beside the remains of Raul Luis Lopez who died from COVID-19 the previous month, Saturday, May 9, 20...
Samuel Nunez cries as he eulogizes his daughter Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, during a funeral service in memory of her at the Metropolitan Bap...
Emergency medical workers Jacob Magoon, from left, Joshua Hammond and Thomas Hoang lift a patient onto a gurney in Placentia, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 9...
Jorge Islas Lopez, Consul General of Mexico, and others carry the remains of loved ones following the blessing of the ashes of Mexicans who died from ...
Romelia Navarro, right, is comforted by nurse Michele Younkin, left, as she weeps while sitting at the bedside of her dying husband, Antonio Navarro, ...
People walk along the Las Vegas Strip devoid of the usual crowds after casinos were ordered to shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, M...
Lila Nelson watches as her son, Rise University Preparatory sixth-grader Jayden Amacker, watch an online class in his room at their home in San Franci...
A homeless person sits on a wheelchair under rainy weather on Sunset Blvd., in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles Monday, April 6, 2020. One po...
A customer eats inside the Horseshoe Cafe Friday, May 1, 2020, in Wickenburg, Ariz. A few small businesses reopened in defiance of Arizona Gov. Doug D...
Rectangles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing line a city-sanctioned homeless encampment at San F...
Waitress Aubrey Kelly, right, checks on diners Jack Thomas and Lisa Wilson in the parking lot of Vitello's Italian restaurant, Saturday, May 23, 2020,...
Karen Speros, 82, waits for a movie to start at a Regal movie theater in Irvine, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom re...
Norman Butler, a first time food bank user, and his girlfriend Cheryl Butler wait overnight in their car, along with others lined up to receive food a...
Dr. Thuan Ong, center, reaches out to UW Medicine Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Dellit after Ong spoke with deep emotion about his patients before he ...
President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Bethe...
Vivian Zayas holds onto the walker once belonging to her recently deceased mother Ana Martinez while her family prays before Thanksgiving dinner, Thur...
Chaplain Kristin Michealsen holds the hand of a deceased COVID-19 patient while talking on the phone with the patient's family member at Providence Ho...
Farm worker Jorge Americano receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in his arm bearing a tattoo depicting Jesus at Tudor Ranch in Mecca, Calif.,...
Dr. Mher Onanyan takes a short break while waiting for an X-ray of a COVID-19 patient's lungs at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission H...
Licensed vocational nurse Joselito Florendo, right, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Michael Chesler at a mass vaccination site set up in the parki...
Transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Miss...
Registered traveling nurse Patricia Carrete, of El Paso, Texas, walks down the hallways during a night shift at a field hospital set up to handle a su...

A doctor, right, assists nurses as they treat a patient delivered by emergency medical personnel from a nursing home showing symptoms of COVID-19 at a...

Judie Shape, center, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, blows a kiss to her son-in-law, Michael Spencer, left, as Shape's daughter, Lori Spe...

Tom Hanks arrives at the Oscars in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2020. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Fans watch from grass beyond the outfield as the Chicago Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers in a spring training baseball game Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, i...

People wait for an H-E-B grocery store to open Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Spring, Texas. Grocery store executives and city officials reassured the co...

Bartender Cassandra Paris takes farewell a shot at an early closing time at 169 bar with patrons Monday, March 16, 2020, in New York. New York leaders...

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks on the scoreboard screen in an empty Sprint Center after canceling the remaining NCAA college basketball games ...

Deanna Butts reaches for one of the last packages of toilet paper at Target in the Tenleytown area of Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Supplies ar...

A person is taken on a stretcher into the United Memorial Medical Center after going through testing for COVID-19 Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Houston...

A man crosses the street in a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning in New York, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Mar...

Workers wearing personal protective equipment bury bodies during the coronavirus pandemic in a trench on Hart Island in the Bronx borough of New York ...

Bodies are wrapped in protective plastic in a holding facility during the coronavirus pandemic at Daniel J. Schaefer Funeral Home, April 2, 2020, in t...

Medical personnel prepare to transport a body from a refrigerated container at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in the Broo...

Nurses and doctors clear the area before defibrillating a patient with COVID-19 who went into cardiac arrest, Monday, April 20, 2020, at a hospital in...

Chaplain Will Runyon holds back tears as he speaks of the hardships and death amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak outside of Phoebe Putney Memorial...

The family of Larry Hammond wave as a line of cars with friends and family, who could not attend his funeral due to the coronavirus, pass by their hom...

Empty lanes of the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway lead to downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, April 26, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark J. ...

Medical personnel talk as they care for COVID-19 patients at DHR Health, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Rev. Fabian Arias performs an in-home service beside the remains of Raul Luis Lopez who died from COVID-19 the previous month, Saturday, May 9, 20...

Samuel Nunez cries as he eulogizes his daughter Lydia Nunez, who died from COVID-19, during a funeral service in memory of her at the Metropolitan Bap...

Emergency medical workers Jacob Magoon, from left, Joshua Hammond and Thomas Hoang lift a patient onto a gurney in Placentia, Calif., Saturday, Jan. 9...

Jorge Islas Lopez, Consul General of Mexico, and others carry the remains of loved ones following the blessing of the ashes of Mexicans who died from ...

Romelia Navarro, right, is comforted by nurse Michele Younkin, left, as she weeps while sitting at the bedside of her dying husband, Antonio Navarro, ...

People walk along the Las Vegas Strip devoid of the usual crowds after casinos were ordered to shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, M...

Lila Nelson watches as her son, Rise University Preparatory sixth-grader Jayden Amacker, watch an online class in his room at their home in San Franci...

A homeless person sits on a wheelchair under rainy weather on Sunset Blvd., in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles Monday, April 6, 2020. One po...

A customer eats inside the Horseshoe Cafe Friday, May 1, 2020, in Wickenburg, Ariz. A few small businesses reopened in defiance of Arizona Gov. Doug D...

Rectangles designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing line a city-sanctioned homeless encampment at San F...

Waitress Aubrey Kelly, right, checks on diners Jack Thomas and Lisa Wilson in the parking lot of Vitello's Italian restaurant, Saturday, May 23, 2020,...

Karen Speros, 82, waits for a movie to start at a Regal movie theater in Irvine, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom re...

Norman Butler, a first time food bank user, and his girlfriend Cheryl Butler wait overnight in their car, along with others lined up to receive food a...

Dr. Thuan Ong, center, reaches out to UW Medicine Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Dellit after Ong spoke with deep emotion about his patients before he ...

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Bethe...

Vivian Zayas holds onto the walker once belonging to her recently deceased mother Ana Martinez while her family prays before Thanksgiving dinner, Thur...

Chaplain Kristin Michealsen holds the hand of a deceased COVID-19 patient while talking on the phone with the patient's family member at Providence Ho...

Farm worker Jorge Americano receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in his arm bearing a tattoo depicting Jesus at Tudor Ranch in Mecca, Calif.,...

Dr. Mher Onanyan takes a short break while waiting for an X-ray of a COVID-19 patient's lungs at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Mission H...

Licensed vocational nurse Joselito Florendo, right, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Michael Chesler at a mass vaccination site set up in the parki...

Transporters Miguel Lopez, right, Noe Meza prepare to move a body of a COVID-19 victim to a morgue at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in the Miss...

Registered traveling nurse Patricia Carrete, of El Paso, Texas, walks down the hallways during a night shift at a field hospital set up to handle a su...

Just one year ago, America had no idea.

Life in February 2020 still felt normal. Concern was building about a mystery respiratory illness that had just been named COVID-19. There was panic buying, and a sense of trepidation. Yet it was tempered by a large dose of American optimism. The coronavirus still felt like a foreign problem, even as U.S. authorities recorded the country’s first known death from the virus.

Precisely a year later, America is hurtling toward a horrifying milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.

A relentless march of death and tragedy has warped time and memory. It became easy to forget the shocking images, so many day after day, of scenes once unthinkable in a country of such wealth and power. As the year unfolded, Associated Press photographers formed a pictorial record of suffering, emotion and resilience. It shows the year that changed America.

Looking back, we can see it happened in phases.

——-

In the beginning, the crisis felt far away.

Last February, Americans still greeted each other with handshakes and commuted to work in crowded public transportation. Children were still at school in actual classrooms. Hollywood icon Tom Hanks walked the red carpet at the Oscars, not knowing a month later he and his wife would contract COVID-19. Baseball spring training drew the usual crowds, without a face mask in sight.

But an ominous cruise ship with COVID-infected passengers circled off the coast of California. Within weeks, the Grand Princess - and the initial efforts by the state and the federal governments to bar it from coming ashore - became a symbol of America’s misguided belief that it could keep the disease out.

Words like shutdown and social distancing were not yet part of our national vocabulary in those early days. Few of us wore masks as we stood in long lines to stockpile groceries and cleared the shelves of toilet paper.

—-

Heartbreak and despair arrived quickly.

Nightmarish scenes we had witnessed in China and Italy reached America, and the nation snapped to attention. Nursing homes near Seattle became the sites of the first deadly U.S. outbreak. We watched the elderly and frail suffer alone: An octogenarian with COVID-19, stretched out in a hospital bed, blowing her family a kiss through a window.

The World Health Organization declared the crisis a pandemic in March, and everything from college campuses to corporate headquarters cleared out. The NCAA announced that the rite of spring for so many Americans — its college basketball tournament — would be played before largely empty arenas, and then abruptly canceled it.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious disease, became a household name in daily news conferences. When he estimated in March that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the virus, horror was tempered by total disbelief. President Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game changer” but medical experts disagreed.

American hustle and bustle came to a standstill as hotspots exploded across the country. The typically jam-packed Los Angeles freeways emptied into eerie stretches of open road. The lights stayed on in Times Square but its legendary energy and crowds vanished. April felt like Armageddon in New York City; ambulances constantly blared down deserted streets, body bags were forklifted into refrigerated trucks that parked outside hospitals where they served as makeshift morgues and stark symbols of death.

Aerial footage captured by AP showed another unthinkable sight: a mass grave in New York City for unclaimed bodies of COVID-19 victims. Workers in hazmat suits were seen lowering wooden coffins, stacked neatly on top of each other, into deep trenches dug in a potter’s field off the coast of the Bronx.

We marveled at the heroism of healthcare workers and tried to show our gratitude; New Yorkers clapped and cheered and banged pots each night at 7 p.m. to honor those doctors and nurses.

We mourned the nonstop trauma they absorbed on the frontlines.

Afraid and exhausted, they battled to save the sick and vowed not to let victims die alone. Inside hospital rooms, where countless patients had no family to comfort them, the grim task of offering solace fell to the overworked and emotionally drained doctors, nurses and hospital chaplains. Some held back tears as they offered non-stop comfort and prayers. “There’s so much death right now, it piles up on you, it feels heavy,” said a chaplain in Georgia.

——-

The reality that America had become the global epicenter of modern history’s deadliest pandemic crashed into focus.

Life moved online: everything from work and school to doctors appointments, birthday parties, weddings — and funerals.

It became clear that no one was safe. But some were at far greater risk. Racial disparities in who contracted the virus played out across America as data showed that Black and Latino people were disproportionately affected by the virus and were disproportionately dying of it.

Catching COVID-19 became just one of many concerns as the pandemic shut society, forcing businesses to close and unemployment to skyrocket. Paychecks shrank or disappeared altogether for millions, and harrowing portraits of hunger emerged across the country as Americans lined up at food banks, many for the first time in their lives.

Science mixed with politics, deepening a national divide and adding to the stress of a nation overwhelmed. Protests against racial injustice sent people, most of them wearing masks, into the streets.

Amid the upside-downness of life, we sought normalcy. Restaurants in some places hung their “open” signs and refused to abide by stay-at-home orders, welcoming customers willing to dine inside. Others came up with creative al fresco options. In the parking lot of one California restaurant, a couple brought their own table and even fine china to enjoy Italian takeout.

——-

Then came some glimmers of hope.

Amid escalating loss, vaccines arrived in mid-December, kicking off the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history. It felt like the first good news in a doomed year. As doctors and nurses got the first shots, some cheered. Others wept, the constant trauma and sorrow merging with hope in one indescribable cathartic moment.

As vaccine supply picked up — slowly — many of the country’s amusement parks and stadiums, after months vacant, reopened as vaccination mega sites.

Holidays, so often a time of hope, brought more suffering. Empty chairs at family tables were a painful reminder of lost loved ones. Millions of Americans ignored official pleas to avoid travel and gatherings, making the holidays a catalyst for new infections. Surge upon surge of new cases followed Thanksgiving and then Christmas and New Year's Eve, with each day seemingly setting new records for infections.

As the country and the world bid goodbye, and good riddance, to 2020 it became clear that 2021, at least the early months, would look pretty similar.

Politics shifted with President Joe Biden taking over from Trump. After four years of chaos and controversy, the new president brought a jarring sense of calm to national politics. Still, vaccine delays persist, and it’s not clear if America is winning its war against the virus.

The COVID-19 death toll is not stopping at 500,000, and the virus has mutated countless times, with some variants easier to spread and harder to protect against.

We wonder, what will our new normal look like? Will we ever again swarm through amusement parks or pack into movie theaters or hold huge business conferences or crowd Times Square for the ball drop to mark the end of another year?

The deadliest year in American history has taught us that only time will tell.


Updated : 2021-03-04 20:33 GMT+08:00