1 in 500 Americans Have Now Died of COVID-19

The grim milestone, which occurred 19 months into the pandemic, is disproportionally skewed towards people of color, who died at rates above the national average

covid death
Workers move a body. Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Nineteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States reached a grim milestone: more than 1 in 500 Americans have now died from the virus.

As of Sept. 15, at least 665,496 Americans have died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. When the country, which has a population of more than 332.7 million, surpassed 663,000 deaths on Tuesday, that meant 1 in 500 people had died.

The rate of deaths are disproportionately skewed towards the elderly and people of color. Though people over age 85 are 2% of the population, they accounted for a quarter of the death toll, The Washington Post reported. One in 35 people over age 85 died of COVID-19, compared 1 in 150 people between the ages of 65 and 84 and 1 in 780 of people aged 40 to 64.

In that youngest age group, from 40 to 64, people of color were far more likely to die of the virus. One in 240 Native Americans, 1 in 390 Hispanics and 1 in 480 Black people died from COVID-19, compared to 1 in 1,300 white or Asian people.

That divide is even starker among people aged 18 to 39. In that age group, Native Americans died at a rate of 1 in 1,800, Hispanics at 1 in 4,700 and Blacks at 1 in 4,900. Among white and Asian people, the death rate was 1 in 16,000.

Earlier reports had found that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death among Black Americans, in part because of the lack of access to medical care.

"The outsized challenges that Black Americans are facing are a reflection of the generally diminished economic position and health status that they faced prior to this crisis," an Aug. 2020 report from the Brookings Institute said. "Several pre– COVID-19 economic conditions — including lower levels of income and wealth, higher unemployment, and greater levels of food and housing insecurity — leave Black families with fewer buffers to absorb economic shocks and contribute to Black households' vulnerability to the COVID-19 economic crisis."

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U.S. COVID-19 deaths had been declining for part of 2020. After reaching a record-high 4,406 deaths in one day on Jan. 12, the rate steadily decreased from February to July as the COVID-19 vaccines became readily available. However, in August, with the highly-contagious delta variant overwhelming undervaccinated parts of the country, the death rate has shot back up and an average of more than 1,800 people a day are now dying in the U.S. as of Sept. 15.

There is a solution, though, to the growing death toll. The three approved vaccines, from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have proven to be highly effective in preventing severe COVID-19 illness or death around 95% of the time.

The U.S. is still falling short of the stated goal of getting 70% of Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but is making progress. As of Sept. 15, 63.4% of the U.S. population — or 210,361,099 people — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 54.1% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Of the population that is eligible for the vaccine, those aged 12 and up, 74.1% have received at least one dose and 63.3% are fully vaccinated.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the CDC, WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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