A few moments later, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses appeared wearing black clothing and black masks. They stood silently as the hymn “Amazing Grace” was played. The country had recorded more than 28 million COVID-19 cases and 500,264 lives lost as of Monday afternoon, according to a Reuters tally of public health data, although daily cases and hospitalizations have fallen to the lowest level since before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

About 19% of total global coronavirus deaths have occurred in the United States, an outsized figure given that the nation accounts for just 4% of the world’s population. “This is the worst thing that’s happened to this country with regard to the health of the nation in over 100 years,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease adviser to President Joe Biden, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday. He added that decades from now, people would be talking about “that horrible year of 2020, and maybe 2021.”

For most of 2020, Fauci served on former President Donald Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force, a job that often put him at odds with Trump, who sought to downplay the severity of pandemic despite contracting COVID-19 himself, and refused to issue a national mask mandate. Political divisiveness, Fauci said, contributed significantly to the U.S. death toll.

The country’s poor performance reflects the lack of a unified, national response last year, when the administration of former President Donald Trump mostly left states to their own devices in tackling the greatest public health crisis in a century, with the president often in conflict with his own health experts.

In 2020, the virus has taken a full year off the average life expectancy in the United States, the biggest decline since World War Two. Sweeping through the country at the beginning of last year, the U.S. epidemic had claimed its first 100,000 lives by May. The death toll doubled by September as the virus ebbed and surged during the summer months.

Pandemic-weary Americans, like so many around the world, grappled with the mountain of loss brought by COVID-19 as health experts warned of yet another coronavirus resurgence during the fall and winter months.

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